Counterfeiting Obligations of the United States

(18 U.S.C. § 471) What Is Counterfeiting, or Forgery?

In Southern California Federal Courts, the United States Central District of California, prosecutors will often charge defendants with Counterfeiting. The main law that sets out the elements and punishments for counterfeiting is 18 U.S.C. § 471. It is also commonly referred to as forgery. Anyone who forges or alters any United States currency, obligations, or securities with the intent to defraud can be charged with this crime. Counterfeiting generally falls under two main categories. One, creating a fake document. The second would be modifying an existing document without permission. Some common objects that are the target of a forgery include contracts, checks, deeds for property, identification cards, and even money.

What Elements Need to be Established to Charge Someone With Counterfeiting?

The prosecution needs to prove that a defendant falsely made, forged, counterfeited, or altered any ‘obligation or other security’ of the United States and that they did so with the intent to defraud.

What Is an “Obligation or Other Security?”

For the purposes of this statute, an “obligation or other security” includes things like bonds, currencies, federal reserve notes, coupons, treasury notes, gold or silver certificates, certificates of deposit, bills, checks, money orders. 

An ‘obligation’ is counterfeit if it looks so close to the real thing that it would deceive an honest and unsuspecting person using ordinary care and observation abilities. It does not need to be so perfect that you need special tools to determine its authenticity.

What Does It Mean to Act With “an Intent to Defraud?”

To act with an “intent to defraud” means to act with a specific intent to deceive or cheat, typically for the purpose of either causing some financial loss to another or bringing about some financial gain to one’s self. It is not necessary to prove that anyone was actually defrauded as long as it is established that the defendant acted with the intent to defraud or mislead.

Who Can be Charged With Counterfeiting Under 18 U.S.C. § 471?

A person can be charged with Counterfeiting even if they are not caught during the act of creating the counterfeit items. If you are found with counterfeit notes and your residence or vehicle is searched, you can be charged with counterfeiting if the police find tools to create these items. For example, blank pre-cut sheets of bills, blank check-sized papers, specialized printers, ink, or paper.

Are there defenses to charges of Counterfeiting?

The most important element of the charge is that the defendant acted with an intent to defraud. This can also be the hardest element for prosecutors to prove. If you created the forged items for prop-purposes and never intended to pass them, or as part of an art piece, that could be a defense to the charge.

What Are Some Related Offenses?

Related offenses include:

  • 18 U.S.C. § 472 – Passing Counterfeit Obligations of the United States
  • 18 U.S.C. § 473 – Dealing in Counterfeit Obligations of the United States
  • Penal Code § 470 – Forgery
What Are the Penalties for 18 U.S.C. § 471?

This statute also lays out penalties for anyone who, with intent to commit fraud, fraudulently makes, forges, counterfeits, or alters any security of the United States. Punishment for federal Counterfeiting can result in felony charges punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison and/or a fine up to $250,000. What determines where someone falls within the possible range will depend on the defendant's conduct and their prior criminal history and other factors such as how affected any potential victims were.

Criminal Defense for Cases of Federal Counterfeiting

Creating counterfeit bills is a serious offense. Federal law in this area can be charged as a felony and the punishment can be incredibly harsh. If you or a loved one have been arrested for or charged with Federal Counterfeiting or Forgery, it is critical that you discuss your case with a knowledgeable federal criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. As a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience, Michael Kraut understands how to effectively defend clients charged with White Collar offenses and works hard to ensure his clients receive the best defense possible.

For more information about Federal Counterfeiting charges, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Michael Kraut at the Kraut Criminal & DUI Lawyers located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1520, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.

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