Giving counterfeit money to robbers: crime?

Lets say you carry around some (not very good) counterfeit bills in a money clip with the intention to give that to a mugger. Can you be charged with counterfeitting if you don’t try to buy anything with it?

This is a completely different type of question, but : Could a defense lawyer for such a mugger argue that his client is only guilty of attempted robbery, since he didn’t acutally get money, only some unusually marked paper?

If you are not a lawyer, maybe you’d best reply with a reference.

IANAL, but in a news story pointed out by Zettehere: it says:

Regarding your other question, common sense seems to say that the mugger intended to rob you and DID relieve you of some personal goods (however worthless) against your will. If he was dumb enough to mistake obviously counterfeit bills for the real dea, it doesn’t make him innocent, it just makes him a stupid crook.

Would a robber be innocent just because he intended to steal real jewels, yet made off with cubic zirconia instead? I’d think he’d still be guilty of theft.

Aren’t there varying degrees of theft, based on the cost of the item?

Once again, just for emphasis, IANAL!!!

IANAL, but I will comment on the robbery/attempted robbery angle. A few years ago I was on a jury for the trial of a guy who had stolen a case of lottery tickets. He was charged with both 1st and 2nd dgree theft. The trouble was, what were the lottery tickets worth? If you peeled them open and cashed them, then you would be paid ~$2000 dollars. But the bar paid ~$200 dollars for them, like expensive christmas cards.

So, what was the value of the items stolen? We ultimately decided to give the guy the lower sentence. So, if a guy breaks into your house and steals counterfeit money, he might get a lower sentence since what he stole wasn’t really worth that much. But he could possibly be charged with B&E, etc. In the case I was on, the guy was invited in off-hours by a bartender buddy of his, so his only crime was to take the tickets, no burglary, B&E, just theft.

BUT, a mugging is different, that’s armed robbery, A&B, etc. You get prosecuted as much for the violence as for the theft, even if you just stole a bus token. If a mugger points a gun at you but chickens out before you hand him the wallet, he’s still commited a serious crime even if he got NOTHING.

I’m inclined to say that you’re guilty of a federal crime:

The above is from

The intent to fool a thief into passing them probably qualifies as “fraudelent intent”. You are definitely guilty of a crime if you MANUFACTURED the counterfeits. And, anyway, if cops pick you up with the money clip full of bogus bills, you’d have a hell of a time proving that you didn’t intend to pass them yourself.

In practice, I suspect there’s another issue here as well. If you are walking around deliberately trying to get robbed, so you can have your little joke, you would probably be more likely to get charged. Like, say, flashing the wad of counterfeit bills, or walking around in a crowd with them hanging out of your back pocket. That puts it into the same category as setting the TV by an open window, and waiting with a loaded shotgun so you can shoot the burglar.

But, IANAL either.

Not a lawyer, but I am a banker.

It is illegal in the United States to create, possess or distribute counterfeit currency. Since the laws make no allowance for your intentions (“Honest, officer, I just had it in case I got mugged!”), you would be guilty of a federal crime, just as yabob surmised.

Distribution carries the same sentance as possession (up to $5000 or 15 years).

What if it’s Monopoly money?

What if it looks real when folded into a money clip, but when unfolded is blank on the other side?

Does that count as counterfeit, or just play money?

I can definitely understand Dr. Jackson’s point that you can’t see intent, so the mugger-bait can’t be good counterfeit, but what if, like in the fox news story quoted above, the bills say, in the spot to the left of the portrait where real bills say “this note is legal tender for all debts…” your bills say “this note is counterfeit and is …” Maybe you can add some more explicit statements that the bill is not real (though subtle enough to pass a mugger’s quick inspection), as well as the fact it has no watermark and security ribbon.

If you get convicted of counterfeiting, can you pay the fine in cash? :wink:

i’m tempted to go look up relevent cases on WestLaw, but i’m just too lazy right now.

Illegal or not, NO prosecutor would prosecute anybody who handed over fake money to a mugger, assuming you weren’t actually running a huge counterfeiting scheme. If you had reasonably realistic (but blatantly fake at close inspection) funny-money on you just in case of a mugging… they would never prosecute you.

Also, how would they prove you counterfeited the money? You could always just say “I got that money from mcdonalds an hour ago” … yes it is “illegal to possess it” but that law is for the purpose of being able to prosecute actual counterfeiters. Fake cash does indeed get into the stream of commerce every now and then, and there is no way they would arrest anybody who was caught with it. If the prosecutor wanted to be “cool” he could actually add a count of “possession of counterfeit money” to the robber’s charges, which would probably carry a higher sentence than simple purse snatching or whatnot.

Title 18, Sec 472 of the Fed Code:
Whoever, with intent to defraud, passes, utters, publishes, or sells, or attempts to pass, utter, publish, or sell, or with like intent brings into the United States or keeps in possession or conceals any falsely made, forged, counterfeited, or altered obligation or other security of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than fifteen years, or both.

The code clearly states that intent to defraud is an element of the crime. If you carry it around to give to a robber, you have no intent to defraud anyone other than the robber. And he would be estopped to assert fraud. What the robber’s intent is is immaterial. His intent cannot be imputed to you.

Here’s another angle to this: couldn’t banks do this? Yeah, I know nobody really gets away with bank robbery, but why not make it even more difficult by giving the robbers officially-wrapped stacks of bills that, upon close inspection, are fake?

Probably so. I’d like to point out, however, that it’s also a crime to knowingly pass counterfeit money – regardless of whether you’re the actual counterfeiter.

In Kansas City, 1998, only 48% of bank robberies were ever solved. Source: Pitch Weekly, 2000


[semi-hijack]This sounds something like the fact that you can be charged with dealing drugs, even if you were ripping off people by selling them oregeno and baking powder.[/hijack]

But the “knowlingly pass” must be with the intent to defraud. A criminal would probably be estopped to assert that you intended to defraud him.

As far as the bank giving counterfeit to a robber, that would put fake money into circulation. Not a good idea. They use red ink now, which explodes over the money and the criminal.

They do. when I worked at McD’s we had fake wads of 5’s wrapped up in case of a robbery. I think most had ink packs in them though so when you walked through the door they put ink on the rest of the money. Don’t know if they still do this or not though, whouldn’t suprise me though to find out they did.

I once had my car broken into and part of my stereo and 15 CDs taken. They caught the guys, and I got my stereo faceplate back. But when it got to trial, there was an arguement about the severity of the crime.

The ADA said that the value of the CD’s (retail) was above $200, and the accused should be charged with a felony. The defence was saying that CDs can be bought for less than $10 apiece, and sometimes $0.01 for 12 (CD club).

Eventually, the jury convicted on the higher one. :D:D

Another example, I noticed a friend had what looked like a very large pile of twenty’s folded in quarters in the center console of his car. When I asked him why he happened to have a couple thousand dollars in cash in his car, he gave me one. It looked pretty convincingly like a twenty for 1/4 of the paper, but the rest was an ad for some long distance service. If these are legal then a bill that looks like ½ a twenty may be also, what would the limit be? 1/4 a bill, 1 side, 1/2?

Sue asks:

From the US Secret Service web site -

Please note the “and”. Reproductions must meet ALL of the above provisions to be legal. Monopoly money is OK. One sided reproductions also must meet the size provision. Also note that this applies to illustrations of US currency. Photographic reproductions must meet all of the above provisions AND be in black and white.

barbitu8 says:

Again, from the Secret Service web page -

You cannot make the fake money the OP speaks of and you cannot knowingly possess it. I don’t think it can be made any simpler.

Kalt says:

My advice - don’t screw with the Secret Service. They have absolutely no sense of humor when dealing with counterfeits. Trust me on this, I have seen it. For example, there was the case of the Washington, DC artist who would draw a picture of US currency, as art, and then sell the piece or trade it for services - always as an object d’art, with full disclosure AND made sure that some facet(s) of the drawing were ludicrously incorrect (your face on the bill, your house on the back, etc.). Because the drawings were of the same size as, and substantially similar to, US currency he was arrested by the Secret Service - multiple times. I don’t believe he served time, but remember, these were disclosed as art, not money. You may be right, you may not be prosecuted in the case presented by the OP but it won’t be worth the hassle.

Edward the Head says:

Actually, those were probably real 5 dollar bills. The inner bills would be mutilated to hide the die pack, but they’re real bills.

In spite of what the Secret Service may say that Title 18 Section 471 states, this is what it does state:

"Section 471. Obligations or securities of United States

  Whoever, with intent to defraud, falsely makes, forges, counterfeits, or alters any obligation or other security of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than fifteen years, or both."

Consistent with Section 472 (noted above in one of my prior posts), intent to defraud is a necessary element of the crime. It always pays to go to the horse’s mouth.