27 Nov 23

When Passing Counterfeit Money Becomes a Federal Crime

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Last Updated on: 15th December 2023, 05:29 pm

When Passing Counterfeit Money Becomes a Federal Crime

Passing counterfeit money can lead to some serious criminal charges. While using fake bills might seem like a victimless crime, it can actually be prosecuted as a federal offense with stiff penalties. Let’s break down when passing counterfeit money crosses the line into federal crime territory.

What is Counterfeit Money?

Counterfeit money refers to bogus bills made to look like real US currency. This includes reproductions of paper money as well as coins. The fake money is created to try to pass as legit and get away with purchases and transactions.

According to federal law, all US currency must be produced by the US Treasury. So manufacturing fake bills or altering real cash is completely illegal under federal statutes. It doesn’t matter what the motivation was—trying to get free items, make easy money, or anything else. Simply creating counterfeit bills or modifying real cash is against the law.

When Does Passing Counterfeit Money Become a Crime?

Many folks think that simply having or handling counterfeit money isn’t necessarily illegal. That’s somewhat true. You can technically possess fake cash without breaking the law as long as you don’t try to use it or pass it off as real.

The crime occurs when someone tries to spend the bogus money or use it to pay for goods or services. This act of passing counterfeit currency as if it’s real is when federal laws kick in. It also applies to attempting to deposit fake cash into a bank account.

It doesn’t matter if the person knew the money was counterfeit or not. Passing fake bills is illegal, period. Whether it was an honest mistake or intentional deception is irrelevant at this point. (It may impact the sentencing later, though).

Federal Laws Against Counterfeiting

There are a few major federal laws that apply to counterfeiting money:

  • 18 U.S. Code § 472 – Uttering counterfeit obligations or securities
  • 18 U.S. Code § 473 – Dealing in counterfeit obligations or securities
  • 18 U.S. Code § 474 – Plates, stones, or analog, digital, or electronic images for counterfeiting obligations or securities
  • 18 U.S. Code § 476 – Taking impressions of tools used for obligations or securities
  • 18 U.S. Code § 477 – Possessing or selling impressions of tools used for obligations or securities
  • 18 U.S. Code § 484 – Connecting parts of different notes
  • 18 U.S. Code § 485 – Coins or bars
  • 18 U.S. Code § 486 – Uttering coins of gold, silver or other metal
  • 18 U.S. Code § 487 – Making or possessing counterfeit dies for coins
  • 18 U.S. Code § 488 – Making or possessing counterfeit dies for foreign coins
  • 18 U.S. Code § 489 – Making or possessing likeness of coins
  • 18 U.S. Code § 490 – Minor coins
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That’s a whole lot of laws! But they all boil down to prohibiting the counterfeiting, possession, and distribution of fake money and related materials. These federal statutes make it illegal to create, trade, or spend bogus bills and coins.

Penalties for Passing Counterfeit Money

Since counterfeiting violates federal law, the penalties can be harsh:

  • Up to 20 years in federal prison
  • Fines up to $250,000
  • Supervised release after prison
  • Probation

The exact punishment depends on the specific charges and circumstances of the case. Large-scale counterfeiting operations or repeat offenders may face stiffer sentences. But even passing a single fake $20 could potentially lead to prison time and major fines.

Defenses Against Counterfeiting Charges

Let’s say you’re accused of passing counterfeit cash. Are there any defenses that could get the charges dropped or reduced? Possibly, in certain situations. Some potential counterfeiting defenses include:

  • You didn’t know it was fake – If you had no clue the money was bogus, you may be able to argue you lacked criminal intent. But ignorance is tough to prove.
  • You received the money from someone else – If you got handed the funny money and passed it along unaware, you may shift blame.
  • It was an emergency – Dire circumstances like needing medicine for a sick child may justify using fake cash.
  • You were entrapped – Law enforcement pushing you to commit a crime you wouldn’t otherwise do.
  • Mental conditions – Mental illness may factor into sentencing.

These defenses have mixed success. Since intent is not required for conviction, it’s uphill battle to beat counterfeiting charges. But solid evidence supporting your innocence could win dismissal or leniency.

Bottom Line

Passing fake bills can seem minor, but it violates serious federal laws. Anyone who tries to spend counterfeit money or deposit it risks facing criminal charges. The penalties can include years in prison and major fines. So beware – that funny money could lead to federal time.

For more info, check out this legal analysis on counterfeiting laws. And this article covers defenses against counterfeiting charges. Let’s keep it real with the cash, y’all. No fake stuff!