Document Forgery in Germany

Lawyers for German Criminal Law

Document Forgery in Germany

Lawyers for German Criminal Law

If a criminal investigation has been initiated against you on suspicion of document forgery in Germany, you should immediately consult an experienced lawyer for criminal law. This seems all the more urgent in the case of document forgery offences, as the police clearance rate here is above average – compared to other violations. The term “document forgery” can falsely give the impression that only the forgery of official documents is punishable. In reality, however, the term document encompasses far more than the usual certificates, contracts and identity cards.

Schlun & Elseven Rechtsanwälte offers expert and committed defence for persons confronted with the accusation of forgery of documents. With in-depth expertise and many years of experience in German criminal defence law, our legal team is ready to provide you with comprehensive advice and defence. Our lawyers will ensure that you strengthen your position during the investigation and that your rights as an accused person are always protected.

Victims of document forgery are supported in asserting their rights and claims by our lawyers for civil procedural law. They will represent you as a joint plaintiff in the proceedings. Please, do not hesitate to contact us directly for specialised legal assistance.

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The Legal Definition of a Document under German Law

According to case law, a document is any embodied human declaration of thought that is suitable and intended for use as evidence in legal transactions and that identifies its maker. Classic examples of documents are certificates, contracts and identity cards. What is particularly important is its evidentiary function in legal transactions.

In other words, a human declaration must be typically linked to a physical object. Indeed, a document does not necessarily have to be made in paper form. However, it is insufficient if a document can only be viewed on a screen. It is not relevant whether the document is described as a document.

Furthermore, it does not have to be a written document; so-called evidence drawings are also covered. These are evidentiary declarations of thought that are embodied in symbols or signs. These include, for example, vehicle registration plates or the TÜV (technical inspection association) inspection sticker. Even the strokes on a beer mat made by the waiter for the drinks consumed by the guest can constitute a document. This example shows that it is not always easy to see whether one is liable to prosecution for document forgery in Germany by a particular act. An experienced criminal lawyer can help you with the classification.

Special Features to Consider when Classifying a Document as a Forgery

In the case of a compound document, the tangible declaration of ideas is firmly connected to a reference object to form a unit of evidence. This includes, for example, the vehicle registration number, which only constitutes a document in conjunction with the stamp of the registration office and the corresponding vehicle. It contains the declaration that the vehicle in question is registered for public traffic for a particular owner.

If a document is reproduced in any way, the reproductions may also be viewed as official documents. Thus, copies of a document have the quality of a document because they are intended to take the place of the original in legal transactions with the same evidentiary significance. The same applies to copies if they are to take the place of the original. On the other hand, simple transcripts, photocopies, e-mail printouts or faxes are generally not documents.

A certified copy does not constitute a document either. The certification merely confirms that an original corresponds to the copy. It should be noted, however, that the certification mark itself constitutes a document.

The Creation of a Non-Genuine Document

According to § 267, para 1 StGB, there are three different forms of the offence of forgery of a document. Accordingly, a person is guilty of forgery if they produce a false document for the purpose of deceiving legal transactions. A document is false if it does not originate from the person who appears from it as the issuer. The decisive factor is whether there is a deception of identity. This is the case if a false impression is created as to who issued the document.

However, using another person’s name does not necessarily constitute creating a false document. It is not a forgery of a document if the actual issuer is effectively represented by another person when signing the document. For this to be the case, the signatory must be legally authorised to represent the name’s bearer and want to represent them. In addition, the bearer of the name must wish to be defined.

Using a pseudonym or alias is also possible since § 267 StGB does not cover a mere deception of the name. This is the case if the document’s author is identified in general or in a specific issue, so there is no doubt about who they are.

Falsification of a Genuine Document and Use of a False or Falsified Document

In addition to producing a false document, falsifying a genuine document is also punishable. A genuine document is falsified if the conceptual or intellectual content of the original document is subsequently changed. In the case of a compound document, this can be done by changing the reference object of the declaration of thought. For example, this is the case if that of another vehicle replaces the registration number of a motor vehicle.

Finally, anyone who uses a forged or falsified document is liable to prosecution. This means that the document is made accessible to the intended victim so that they may be deceived in how they perceive the document. This can be done, for example, by presenting, handing over or depositing the document. It does not matter whether the document is actually taken into account.

Falsification of a Genuine Document and Use of a False or Falsified Document

According to § 267, para 3 StGB, a particularly serious case of document forgery in Germany generally exists if the offender:

  •  acts on a commercial basis or as a member of a gang which has joined forces to commit fraud or forgery of documents on a continuous basis,
  •  causes a large-scale loss of assets (from 50,000 euros),
  •  significantly endangers the security of legal transactions by means of a large number of false or falsified documents, or
  •  abuses their powers or position as public official or European public official.

This is a non-exhaustive list of potential cases, which as a rule, but not necessarily, constitute particularly serious cases. Even if the requirements of an above-mentioned standard example are met, the judge has the possibility to refrain from assuming a particularly serious case.

On the other hand, it is possible to assume an unlisted particularly serious case outside of what is stated above. The decision is based on an overall assessment of the circumstances of the specific case.