What does it mean to be a Notary Public in the United States?
A Notary Public (“notary”) is a state government official of integrity appointed by a top official of their state, to serve the public as a witness in performing a variety of official fraud-deterrent acts related to the signing of important documents. Notaries derive their authority from their state governments. A notary’s duty is to screen the signers of important documents for their true identity, their willingness to sign without duress or intimidation, and their awareness of the contents of the document of transaction. Some notarizations require the notary to put the signer under an oath, declaring under penalty of perjury that the information being signed on is true and accurate. Powers of attorney, affidavits, wills, and mortgages are common notarized documents. Unlike notaries in foreign countries, a U.S. notary is not an attorney, judge or high ranking official. Notaries should be very clear, especially when dealing with foreigners to steer clear of any misconceptions as to their role as a U.S. notary, which is not the same role notaries play in foreign countries.
What are the civil and criminal penalties for violating Florida Notary Law?
Each state has its own unique notary laws and a notary must follow the law of their particular state. The rules and regulations a Florida notary must follow is governed by Chapter 117 of the Florida State Statutes. Under Florida Statute 117.107(9), “A notary public may not notarize the signature on a document if the person whose signature is being notarized is not in the presence of the notary public at the time the signature is notarized.” There is no exception to the presence requirement. A violation of this subsection is a civil infraction, punishable by penalty not exceeding $5,000. A violation of this Section with an “intent to defraud” may result in a third-degree felony.
The most common criminal offense is a violation for falsely taking or receiving an acknowledgment of a signature on a written instrument. Under Section 117.105, “a notary who falsely or fraudulently takes an acknowledgment of an instrument as a notary or who falsely or fraudulently makes a certificate as a notary or who falsely takes or receives an acknowledgment of the signature on a written instrument” is guilty of a third-degree felony punishable by up to five (5) years in Florida State Prison and/or a $5,000 fine. Further, it is a third-degree felony for any person to obtain or use a notary public commission in any name other than his or her own legal name and for a notary to notarize a document in his or her own name.
A notary has a fundamental responsibility to confirm the identity of the parties whose signatures are to be notarized. Under Florida Statute, Section 117.05(5), A notary is prohibited from notarizing a signature on a document unless he or she personally knows, or has satisfactory evidence, that the person whose signature is to be notarized is the individual who is described in and who is executing the instrument.” Under Section 117.05(3)(d), “any person who unlawfully possesses a notary public official seal or any papers or copies relating to notarial acts is guilty of a second-degree misdemeanor.”
Concluding, a notary who fails to comply with the applicable state law may face serious penalties and criminal liability. It is critical for a notary to abide by the procedures and rules in place to help prevent fraud by witnessing the signing of documents and verifying their authenticity. Notary fraud is more common than people think, so it is important to be aware of this information and know what to watch for when transacting with a notary.
As always, you should consult an attorney if you have doubts regarding your notary services in the past or present. Our knowledgeable attorneys are more than happy to help. Call (786) 837-6787 to schedule a consultation or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for further questions.
*Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to be legal advice. We highly recommend speaking to an attorney if you have any legal concerns. Contacting us through our website does not establish an attorney-client relationship.*