Over the last few years, my 19-year-old son has been spending time his grandmother’s home—my husband’s mother—who is having trouble taking care of herself. Now David has been arrested for “uttering and publishing” in North Carolina. It seems to be something about taking financial advantage of his grandmother. Can you please explain this?

The crime of uttering and publishing has its roots in English common law, and is related to forgery. In ancient times, those crimes were considered misdemeanors and—as with all common law offenses—were considered criminal acts by tradition. Today, of course, we require that an act must violate a specific law in order to be called a crime. Uttering and publishing is defined in the North Carolina General Statutes, section 14-120, and is a class I felony.

The crime is usually associated with passing bad checks. To charge your son with the crime of uttering, the prosecutor must be able to prove that your son presented a bad check with the intention of fraud. In a typical offense, someone will present a check or money order to a bank to be cashed, but the signature on the check—or the endorsement, if it’s a third party check—has been forged or altered.

The crime is committed when the bogus check is presented. No money need change hands. It doesn’t matter whether the recipient believed the check was good. The act of offering a check for payment when the person knows the document is invalid is enough to establish a crime.

Of course, we don’t know all the circumstances of David’s arrest or the specifics of the charges he is facing. In our experience, when a young adult is accused of taking advantage of an older relative by uttering and publishing, there are two common scenarios:

  • The prosecutor alleges that the young adult has gained access to the older person’s checkbook and has been writing checks to himself on the bank account, forging the account holder’s signature; or
  • The prosecutor alleges that the young adult has been removing pension, Social Security, or other checks from the mail, forging an endorsement by the endorser, and then presenting the checks for cash payment to himself.

In David’s case, you probably are not facing the Social Security fraud of the second scenario, because that would involve a federal prosecution rather than a violation of state law.

There are many effective defenses against charges of uttering and publishing in North Carolina. For instance, your son’s attorneys may be able to prove that your mother-in-law actually wrote checks to David, or that she asked him to cash checks on her behalf but forgot about it.

Because the penalties for a North Carolina felony offense are so harsh, you will want to engage an aggressive and experienced Wilmington criminal defense team for your son. Call 910-341-7570 or toll-free at 877-593-4233 to connect to Speaks Law Firm, where every client is treated as our most important client. We can investigate your son’s case thoroughly and work for an acquittal, a dismissal of the charges, or a plea bargain that will minimize the impact on his future.