The People v. Rodney Watts


Issue before the Court: Are event tickets the type of “instrument which does or may evidence, create, transfer, terminate or otherwise affect a legal right, interest, obligation or status” such that a person can be prosecuted for second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument (Penal Law § 170.25) for possessing a ticket?


Held: Yes.


CAL Observes: The court initially framed the question here as whether concert tickets were more alike in kind to a “revocable license,” as long-standing case law had established, and thus not conferring heightened criminal liability on those who might unlawfully possess them, or to the other instruments enumerated in the second-degree forgery statute, whose definition was incorporated by reference in Penal Law §170.25. Those instruments included things like deeds, wills, contracts, commercial instruments, and credit cards. Ultimately, the Court found that under either theory, Mr. Watts’s argument that his conduct did not come within the felony-level forged instrument proscriptions could not prevail. First, a revocable license does not mean no important legal rights are conferred on the holder such that its unlawful possession can be proscribed by the Penal Law. Second, even if the instrument must be found similar to the other enumerated instruments in the second-degree forgery statute, a concert ticket would fit that bill. In so finding, the Court effectively sanctioned broad interpretation of this statute, notwithstanding principles of statutory construction that might counsel for prosecutorial circumspection. But, perhaps some limitation comes from the Court’s penultimate paragraph, which finds concert and sports tickets critical to New York’s culture and economy: possessing an instrument that is not enumerated but also not so interwoven in the State’s economic life as a ticket is might not create felony liability.