Counterfeiting is a crime that has existed in some form for centuries, and remains to be a problem in the world today. Basically, this offense has to do with creating and/or presenting fake items, such as fake goods, fake documents, and fake money.
At present, there are two main types of counterfeiting that are committed most commonly in the United States: counterfeiting of goods and counterfeiting of currency. In Massachusetts, this can be divided into two categories:
- Forgery and crimes against the currency (fake documents, falsified records, fake tickets, etc.)
- Crimes against property (fake products)
Examples of Counterfeiting
In Massachusetts, counterfeiting can involve:
- Money, including US currency notes, orders, checks, bills, and coins.
- Railroad tickets
- Railroad company stamps
- Stamping documents for land
- Certificates of government officials
- Records, returns, certificates, attestations, and others
- Travelers checks
- Deeds, records and others
- Signatures of corporate officers or agents
- Receipts, price tickets, or universal product code labels
- Counterfeit marks or any unathorized copy or reproduction of intellectual property
In Massachusetts, you don't have to be the creator of the fake item to be charged with counterfeiting. Uttering is committed when people intentionally sell or offer these counterfeit items to others, even if they were not the ones who made those fake items.
At a basic level, any person who creates a phoney copy of something and attempts to pass it off as a real and legitimate item will be considered guilty of the process of counterfeiting. As mentioned above, you don't even have to be the one who made the fake item. Simply passing it on to another person with the intention of gaining from it is a punishable offense. All cases of counterfeiting are considered to be felonies.
In Massachusetts, punishment for counterfeiting goods are as follows:
- 100 or fewer items, total retail value is $1000 or less - imprisonment of not more 2.5 years
- More 100 but less than 1000 items, total retail value of more than $1000 but less than $10000, second offense - imprisonment of not more than 5 years
- 1000 or more items, total retail value of $10000 or more, production of fake items, third offense - imprisonment in state prison of not more than 10 years
In Massachusetts, punishment for counterfeiting money and other documents include:
- Uttering fake records and similar documents - imprisonment in state prison for not more than 10 years
- Forgery of seal of land court and similar documents - imprisonment in state prison for not more than 10 years
- Forgery of railroad tickets, etc. - imprisonment in state prison for not more than 3 years plus a fine of not more than $500
- Forgery of records, return, certificates, etc. - imprisonment in state prison for not more than 10 years
- Forgery of note, certificate or bills of credit that are issued by the state treasury - imprisonment in state prison for life
- Forgery of bank bills, notes, traveler's check - imprisonment in state prison for life
- Possession of 10 or more counterfeit notes or bills - imprisonment in state prison for life
Aside from imprisonment, depending on the counterfeit item and various other factors, fines may also imposed on the accused who is convicted. The above list is not complete as Massachusetts law is very detailed on the various kinds of offenses in counterfeiting and their corresponding punishment. Those interested in knowing more can take a look at Chapters 266 and 267 of the Title I of Massachusetts General Laws.
The punishment for counterfeiting almost anything can be very harsh, and those convicted of the crime will face serious repercussions. Fines for US securities, including currency can lead to fines of as much as $250,000, while prison sentences can reach anywhere up to 20 years. In some rare circumstances, the prison time may even be extended to 25 years or more when foreign securities and obligations are counterfeited. What's more, if some form of financial gain or loss happens as a result of the counterfeiting action, then the sentence can become harsher, with fines of up to double the amount that was gained by the defendant, or lost by the victim as a result of the crime.
In many circumstances, the specificity of the counterfeit item in question can sometimes have an impact on the sentence that is given to any person convicted of this crime. For example, someone who attempts to combine multiple notes together can face 10 years in prison instead of 20, while attempting to counterfeit gold coins or bars can lead to imprisonment of up to 15 years. Similar considerations of the severity of the crime are used in regards to counterfeit bills and currency, wherein the amount of money in question might be used to determine how serious the penalty, and punishment can be.
As with most crimes, sometimes the punishment in a counterfeiting case will also depend on the criminal history of the person involved.
Finding an appropriate defense against a charge of counterfeiting can be difficult although not impossible. Possible defenses are as follows:
- No intention to defraud, such as when the accused were not aware that the money they are offering as payment, for instance, is counterfeit. This is quite common since most people would not realize that the currency bill, they obtained from someone else, is actually fake. This defense may also be used for forged checks and other documents. (Importantly, a person who is charged with copying a Treasury plate might not be successful when attempting to argue against an accusation of intent to defraud. After all, there would be no reason to do such a thing as the Treasury has its own provider of plates that they use for printing money and, naturally, possession of such plates is very much restricted to certain people only.)
- In certain situations, it could be possible for defendants to argue that the currency or item that they created and are being charged for in their counterfeiting case is of such a poor quality that it cannot meet the legal definition of something that is "counterfeit". While the law doesn't necessarily require fake bills and items to be so similar to the authentic item that only an expert may be able to tell the difference, crude copies that lack any serious identifying characteristics may not be able to qualify as a counterfeit for the criminal prosecution of a defendant. If the copy of the currency or item is poor enough that it wouldn't be able to fool an ordinary person into believing that it is the real item, then chances are that the accused will be found innocent of counterfeiting. However, this particular defense has limitations, and it is possible to be found guilty of counterfeiting currency even when only one half of a bill has been copied.
What to Do If You Have Been Charged
As with most crimes, Massachusetts state law prohibits various activities regarding the counterfeiting of items and currency. A conviction of this crime can lead to a substantial fine and lengthy prison sentence. However, an experienced criminal defense lawyer may be able to seek dismissal or reduction of your charges by assessing the strengths and weaknesses of your particular case.