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Counterfeit Money in New York State Law: Penal Law Sections 170.15 and 170.30

Posted By Galluzzo and Johnson LLP || 2-Aug-2011

Under New York state law, it is a serious crime to knowingly make or use counterfeit money with the intent to deceive or defraud another.  The applicable statutes are Class C non-violent felonies, meaning that someone convicted of this crime (as a first felony offense) can be sentenced to an indeterminate sentence of from 1-3 years or as much as 5-15.

First, a person is guilty of Penal Law 170.15 (Forgery in the First Degree) when, with intent to defraud, deceive or injure another, he or she falsely makes, completes or alters a written instrument which is or purports to be, or which is calculated to become or to represent if completed: 1) Part of an issue of money, stamps, securities or other valuable instruments issued by a government or governmental instrumentality, or 2) Part of an issue of stock, bonds or other instruments representing interests in or claims against a corporate or other organization or its property.

Obviously, there are some terms in the definition above that require some explaining.  The Penal Law provides the following:

A “written instrument” is any instrument or article, including computer data or a computer program, containing written or printed matter or the equivalent thereof, used for the purpose of reciting, embodying, conveying or recording information, or constituting a symbol or evidence of value, right, privilege or identification, which is capable of being used to the advantage or disadvantage of some person.  (See Penal Law Section 170.00[1])(Obviously, this definition encompasses a whole lot of things.)

A person “falsely makes” a written instrument when he makes or draws a complete written instrument in its entirety, or an incomplete written instrument, which purports to be an authentic creation of its ostensible maker or drawer, but which is not such either because the ostensible maker or drawer is fictitious or because, if real, he did not authorize the making or drawing thereof.  (See Penal Law Section 170.00[4]).

A person “falsely completes” a written instrument when, by adding, inserting or changing matter, he transforms an incomplete written instrument into a complete one, without the authority of anyone entitled to grant it, so that such complete instrument appears or purports to be in all respects an authentic creation or or fully authorized by its ostensible maker or drawer.  (See Penal Law Section 170.00[5]).

A person “falsely alters” a written instrument when, without the authority of anyone entitled to grant it, he changes a written instrument, whether it be in complete or incomplete form, by means of erasure, obliteration, deletion, insertion of new matter, transposition of mater, or in any other manner, so that such instrument in its thus altered form appears or purports to be in all respects an authentic creation of or fully authorized by its ostensible maker or drawer. )(See Penal Law Section 170.00[6]).

The possession of counterfeit money can also be a Class C felony under Penal Law Section 170.30 (Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the First Degree).  That section provides that a person is guilty of this crime when, with knowledge that the instrument is forged and with intent do defraud, deceive or injure another, he utters or possesses any forged instrument of a kind specified in Penal Law Section 170.15 (see Forgery in the First Degree, above)(“uttering” a forged instrument basically means knowingly presenting it to somebody in a fraudulent attempt to use it).

As far as counterfeit money is concerned, defendants found in possession of it are usually charged with one count for each counterfeit bill.  These charges can be difficult to prove, however, as the prosecutor has to demonstrate that the defendant knew that the money was counterfeit.  Certainly, an experienced criminal defense lawyer can argue that the defendant was given the counterfeit money by someone else without realizing that it was fake. For this reason, in these types of cases, it is absolutely critical for accused people to refrain from speaking to law enforcement officers without first speaking with an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

Prosecutors often try to prove knowledge by showing profligate or lavish spending behavior with the counterfeit money by the defendant, or by tying the defendant to a known counterfeiting operation, or by demonstrating that the forged money was so obviously fake that the defendant could not have believed that the bills in his possession were real.

If you or a loved one have been arrested and accused of a violation of Penal Law Sections 170.15 or 170.30, you should consider contacting experienced New York counterfeit and forgery attorneys.  Their three former Manhattan prosecutors have extensive experience with a variety of forgery- and fraud-related cases, and are prepared to apply their expertise to your defense.

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