On December 22, 2021, Governor Kathy Hochul signed a package of legislation focused on improving New York’s response to the continued threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. While much of the legislation was targeted at getting New Yorkers vaccinated, one of the most crucial aspects of the bill makes the falsification of COVID-19 vaccination records a crime (NY Penal Law §170.05).
With the reports of record sales for fake vaccine cards among many high-profile athletes, medical professionals, and NYPD officers, it is no surprise that authorities would hurry to address this ever-growing crisis. However, as these crimes have continued to spread around the state, many New Yorkers are curious as to how this new legislation will help businesses and the general public stay safe amid the growing number of COVID cases across the state due to the Omicron variant.
So what punishments are being leveraged against those who do choose to misrepresent their vaccination history?
Effective immediately, the forgery or falsification of any COVID-19 vaccination cards is now considered a class A misdemeanor. For the sake of the forgery statute, a COVID vaccination card is considered to be a written instrument, which is a crime punishable by up to 1 year in jail or potentially 3 years of probation. Even if you were not the one to physically make or tamper with the card, carrying a written instrument that you know contains false information and presenting it in public can still make you liable for Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument. Things only begin to compound if you choose to present it to a government agency or an employer database so you can get back to work or obtain an Excelsior Pass. If this situation were to occur, you will have also committed Falsifying of Business Records and Offering a False Instrument for Filing.
However, this bill does not just cover physical cards, as it is also now considered a class E felony to tamper with any computer materials relating to your vaccination status (NY Penal Law §156.25). While the bill doesn’t specifically spell out what is considered tampering or not, the governor’s office released a statement summarizing that any “intentional entering, alteration or destruction of ‘computer material’ regarding COVID-19 vaccine provisions” would be examples that could be grounds for a case. I expect that there could be some nuanced issues regarding the definition of computer material in future vaccine fraud cases. Regardless, class E felonies can be punished with up to four years in prison, so authorities are hoping that this new bill will serve as a strong deterrent to prevent people from lying or tampering with their vaccination status.
What effects will this have moving forward?
While New York has already begun to crack down on those who have been selling or carrying these fake vaccination cards with this bill having been passed, I expect many of these cases to be more open and shut as New York looks to put its foot down on the recent increase in fake vaccine cards. No matter what your stance is on the vaccine, however, it is important to know that if you purchase or alter any of your vaccine information, you may very well end up being prosecuted to the full extent of these new laws. Even outside of the potential jail time, the consequences of a felony conviction can be detrimental to your personal and professional life.
If you do find yourself in this situation, it is important that you respectfully remain silent and ask to consult with experienced legal counsel immediately. Don’t think you’ll be able to talk yourself out of it alone. With your personal and professional life at stake, it’s important to give yourself every advantage should you end up in this position.
A native of Syracuse, Zachariah has worked as a criminal defense lawyer focusing mainly on DWI defense from the misdemeanor to the felony level. No matter the task, Zachariah focuses on bringing the highest quality of legal analysis and preparation in his legal work. He can be reached at (315) 492-4700 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.