State of Utah v. Baggett

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State of Utah v. Baggett, Case No. 20000982-CA, Filed October 4, 2001 IN THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

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State of Utah,
Plaintiff and Appellee,

v.

James Baggett,
Defendant and Appellant.

MEMORANDUM DECISION
(Not For Official Publication)

Case No. 20000982-CA

F I L E D
October 4, 2001 2001 UT App 286 -----

Fourth District, Provo Department
The Honorable Guy R. Burningham

Attorneys:
Margaret P. Lindsay, Provo, for Appellant
Mark L. Shurtleff and Christopher D. Ballard, Salt Lake City, for Appellee

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Before Judges Greenwood, Jackson, and Davis.

JACKSON, Associate Presiding Judge:

Defendant appeals his conviction, pursuant to a conditional no contest plea, of attempted forgery under Utah Code Ann. §§ 76-6-501, 76-4-101 (1999). He challenges the trial court's conclusions that he completed and uttered a check, arguing that the trial court erred in its interpretation of section 76-6-501 (the Forgery Statute). We affirm.

"'We review for correctness a trial court's statutory interpretation, according it no particular deference.'" State v. Singh, 819 P.2d 356, 359 (Utah Ct. App. 1991) (citations omitted). "When interpreting a section of the Utah Code, we are guided by the principle that a statute is generally construed according to its plain language. Only if we find ambiguity in the statute's plain language need we resort to other methods of statutory interpretation." State v. Thurman, 911 P.2d 371, 373 (Utah 1996) (internal citations omitted).

Defendant argues that the trial court erred when it concluded that he "complete[d] the writing, by entering his name into its payee section, without authorization of the writing's owner," because the writing was already complete. He asserts that the term "completes," as used in the Forgery Statute, refers specifically to the negotiability of an instrument, as used in the Utah Commercial Code (UCC). Defendant reasons that if the Forgery Statute uses "completes" as contemplated by the UCC, the instrument had already been completed, and he could not possibly have "completed" an already complete instrument under the Forgery Statute.(1)

By converting the instrument from a bearer instrument to an order instrument, Defendant in effect "completed" the writing within the meaning of the Forgery Statute. Because the language of the Forgery Statute is plain and unambiguous, we have no need to look to the UCC for clarification.

Further, we conclude that Defendant's actions would constitute forgery even if the instrument had already been completed before he inserted his name in the payee section. See State v. Smith, 622 P.2d 1052, 1052-53 (N.M. Ct. App. 1981) (affirming a conviction for forgery where the defendant added a name to a blank payee line on an otherwise completed check); 36 Am. Jur. 2d Forgery § 19 (2001) (stating two views under which "if a paper is delivered as a completed instrument, without authority, express or implied, to fill any blanks or make any changes, subsequent additions are forgeries" as long as the other elements of forgery are met).

Defendant also contends that he did not "utter" the instrument as used in the Forgery Statute. He argues that "[t]he check found by [Defendant] that he presented to the bank was not a forged instrument because it was already a completed negotiable instrument/writing at the time he found it." In light of our ruling that Defendant completed, and thus forged, the instrument, this argument also fails. See State v. Green, 89 Utah 437, 57 P.2d 750, 757-58 (1936) (holding that offering forged check with knowledge of its falsity and with intent to defraud constitutes uttering).

Affirmed.
 
 

______________________________
Norman H. Jackson,
Associate Presiding Judge -----

WE CONCUR:
 
 

______________________________
Pamela T. Greenwood,
Presiding Judge
 
 

______________________________
James Z. Davis, Judge

1. Defendant cites State v. Donaldson, 14 Utah 2d 401, 385 P.2d 151 (Utah 1963), to support this argument. However, Donaldson is readily distinguishable. In Donaldson, the defendant challenged his conviction of issuing a check against insufficient funds, arguing that the instrument was not a check because the payee section was left blank. See id. The court in Donaldson stated: We find no merit to such contention. . . . "It is well settled by authority that the omission to insert in an instrument the name of a payee is not a feature or a defect which affects negotiability. The effect of the omission to name a payee is to invest any bona fide holder with the authority to fill in the blank left for that purpose by the drawer or maker. Such instruments are payable to the bearer until restricted in their currency as negotiable instruments by the insertion of the name of some particular payee." Id. at 151-52 (citation and footnote omitted) (emphasis added). The court in Donaldson then applied this language by ruling that the defendant's instrument was a check, even though the payee portion was left blank, because he "authorized any bona fide holder to fill in the blank." Id. at 152. Thus, Donaldson does not support the proposition, as Defendant asserts, that a check with the payee section left blank is "completed" when in the possession of one who is not a bona fide holder. Additionally, the issue here is not whether an instrument is a negotiable check, as in Donaldson, but whether a writing was completed.