Can I Get Arrested for Unknowingly Using Counterfeit Money?

Making a purchase with counterfeit money is illegal if you intentionally tried to defraud the recipient; you need a criminal defense lawyer to prove that you did not know that the money was fake.

Whenever you use a big bill to make a purchase at a retail store, the cashier tests the bill to see whether it is counterfeit; they might do this by holding the bill up to the light or making a mark on it with a special kind of marker. In fact, the rationale for changing to the current design of bank notes, the one where Ben Franklin’s face takes up most of the middle third of the face of the bill, is because these are much harder to counterfeit. If it turns out that the bill you use to pay for your purchase is fake, the cashier might call the police. If you unknowingly used counterfeit money to make a purchase, you could get charged with forgery or possession of counterfeit currency, and you will need an Austin fraud and forgery lawyer to show that you did not act with criminal intent.

Laws About Counterfeit Money

According to federal law, crimes involving counterfeit currency are felonies; they carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, as well as a fine. The maximum punishment is the same, regardless of the defendant’s relationship to the counterfeit money. In other words, the court could sentence you to 20 years in prison, whether you produced the counterfeit money, attempted to spend it, or simply were caught with the fake money in your possession.

What happens if you did not know that the money was fake? Is it not a gross injustice to send someone to prison for 20 years simply for buying something with cash that they thought was legitimate? It is unfair, but it sometimes happens. In 2017, Syed Ali of Houston faced criminal charges after he bought food at a Taco Bell with a fake $10 bill. Ali had gotten the bill from his father, who had received it as change after making a purchase at Home Depot. He was charged with forgery, which carries a sentence of two to 10 years.

Proving Lack of Criminal Intent

You can only be convicted of counterfeit money charges if the prosecution can prove criminal intent on your part; they must prove that you knew the money was fake and intended to make the recipient believe that it was real. Many defendants try to argue that they did not know that the money was counterfeit, but the defense does not always work. For example, if the bill so obviously looks fake that you cannot have reasonably believed that it was real, the defense will not work. The prosecution may argue that the cashier told the police that you were behaving suspiciously; “behaving suspiciously” is a subjective term. If a cashier tells you that a bill is fake, you should not ask for it back; that will count against you in court. If a bill in your wallet looks fake, you should not try to spend it. If you only find out that a bill is fake after you spend it, you should call a lawyer.

For TX Counterfeit Money Cases, Call Granger and Mueller Criminal Defense Layers

You have the presumption of innocence in all criminal cases, but demonstrating that you did not know that a counterfeit bill was fake requires the expertise of a lawyer. Contact Granger and Mueller in Austin, Texas or call (512) 474-9999.