Just How Serious Is Possession of Counterfeit Money in Massachusetts?

Over the years I have defended several cases involving the possession of or passing of counterfeit bills or money. Some of these cases were prosecuted in the district court and others in superior court. Interestingly enough, some of the more serious cases were prosecuted in the district court and vice versa. Initially, very few of my clients knew the severity of these charges. Most of them thought it was no big deal until I told them a little bit about the counterfeit money statutes in Massachusetts. Then they panicked. So, just how serious is possession of counterfeit money in Massachusetts? This post examines that question.

Counterfeit Money Possession Defense

Counterfeit Money Possession Defense

Ten Bills or More Can Get You a Life Sentence

One of the statutes enables a judge to sentence you to life in prison for possession counterfeit bills. G.L. c. 267 §9 is rarely used by the prosecution but that law does give a judge tremendous power. You must have at least ten bills in your possession for that statute to have effect. There are only about a half dozen cases discussing this law, further evidencing its rare use. The next section of G.L. c. 267, §10 makes it a crime to utter or pass counterfeit bills. What makes this interesting is that this law permits a maximum five year state prison sentence. It seems odd that possessing ten bills can get you a life sentence whereas actually passing those bills is considered less serious. Another possession of counterfeit money statute, G.L. c. 267, §12 makes it a crime to possess counterfeit bills too. That law however, like §10 is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Defenses to Counterfeit Bill Cases

The most obvious is lack of knowledge or intent. Take a look at images of counterfeit bills. One of these is attached to this article. Not that easy to distinguish is it? Well, most people are not looking at their money to see if it is real or not. Most of your money comes in the form of change from a store or restaurant, not a bank. Think about it. You withdraw certain denominations for a bank or ATM, often twenties or hundreds. You make purchases with the twenties and receive change back, tens, fives and ones. What do you do with that money? You put it in your purse or wallet. When you need to buy something else you remove that money and tender it. You are not paying attention to the details of the money or its characteristics. It is really difficult for the district attorney to show that you knew the money was fake.

Also keep in mind that to prove these cases the district attorney will probably call an expert to testify at trial. What does this tell the jury? If you need an expert to show you the difference between the fake and real money how can you expect your average Joe to know the difference? You can’t. A jury will understand this and your chances of acquittal will improve.

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