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Wisconsin Court of Appeals Reinstates Forgery Prosecution Based on Allegedly Altered Prescription


Madison - Relying on arguments presented by attorneys from the Wisconsin Department of Justice, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals held today that a doctor's written prescription for medication creates "legal rights" within the meaning of the state's forgery statute.  The decision will allow Wisconsin's district attorneys to bring forgery charges against persons who alter prescriptions in an effort to obtain more medication than originally prescribed. 


The decision reinstates a Vernon County prosecution against Rene L. Fortun, who stands charged with forgery by falsely altering a writing, a crime under Wisconsin law.  The State has alleged that Fortun received a written prescription for 60 pills of the prescription drug Tramadol, then altered the prescription so it appeared to authorize 120 pills.  She allegedly presented the altered prescription to a pharmacist and received the increased number of pills.  Before trial, a Vernon County circuit judge dismissed the charge on Fortun's motion, concluding the forgery statute did not apply to altered prescriptions. 


Wisconsin Department of Justice attorneys appealed the dismissal of Fortun's charge to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.  Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen explained the State's position on appeal: 


"Under Wisconsin law, a person commits a forgery by altering, with intent to defraud, a writing that creates or transfers legal rights or obligations.  We successfully argued that a doctor's prescription for medication confers the legal right to dispense a prescription drug without committing a crime.  That brings the action within the scope of the forgery statute."


Van Hollen praised the decision.  "Law enforcement officers and prosecutors now have another weapon in the fight against drug abuse and drug-related crimes," said Van Hollen.  "I'm pleased the case will continue in circuit court." 


The Wisconsin Court of Appeals' decision in State of Wisconsin v. Rene L. Fortun, No. 2009AP1172-CR, appears on the court's website:


The Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed the order of the Vernon County Circuit Court dismissing the forgery charge against Fortun, and remanded the case with directions to reinstate the charge.


At this point, Fortun has not been convicted of a crime.  She enjoys a presumption of innocence.  The State must prove its allegations against her beyond a reasonable doubt at any subsequent trial. 


The Vernon County District Attorney's Office represents the State of Wisconsin in Vernon County Circuit Court.  Assistant Attorney General Daniel J. O'Brien represented the State in the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.