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Beware the counterfeit money circulating out there

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One danger of carrying currency is that we might accidentally receive and re-use counterfeit money, including money received from someone owing a debt, paying for goods or services, giving a gift, and as change from a cashier.

Businesses handling heavy amounts of cash receipts are sensitive to the risks of receiving counterfeit paper money. They are more likely to scrutinize higher denominations than lower ones, starting with checking the money with counterfeit detector pens, regardless of how reliable they are or not.

A counterfeit paper money prosecution should not be provable without testimony from an expert witness to prove the bills are counterfeit, ordinarily through an expert from the United States Secret Service, whose function includes protecting against counterfeiting. I have handled such defense before.

On October 31, 2014, the Virginia Supreme Court affirmed a bench trial felony conviction for possessing ten or more counterfeit bills with the intent to utter/use them, finding the evidence was sufficient to convict. Hawkins v. Virginia, ___ Va. ___ (Oct. 31, 2014). The defendant, Charles Hawkins, certainly did not help his argument about whether he knew the bills were counterfeit — where knowledge that the bills are counterfeit is an essential element of the crime — when he immediately grabbed inside his pocket containing the fake bills when he saw the police, finally threw them to the ground, and then repeatedly insisted it was not his money.

On appeal, Hawkins was not helped by his behavior that matched the same factors underlined since over forty years ago by two federal appellate courts as hallmarks of knowing that one possesses counterfeit currency:

"Probably the strongest evidence of guilty knowledge is an attempt to abandon counterfeit currency when detection is feared." Ruiz v. United States, 374 F.2d 619, 620 (5th Cir. 1967); see also United States v. King, 326 F.2d 415, 416 (6th Cir. 1964) (throwing counterfeit money to the floor cognizable in the circumstances showing knowledge and intent).