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  • Using Counterfeit Bills to Shop: What Are the Consequences?

    Posted on by JACK MKHITARIAN

    Using Counterfeit Bills to Shop: What Are the ConsequencesFrom the time people first used currency, there have been people trying to make and use fake money. Despite the government’s best efforts to print money that cannot be copied, counterfeit currency remains in circulation. Counterfeit currency today is compelling and could be mistaken for authentic cash if you are not careful.

    The consequences of using counterfeit bills in New Mexico are harsh. Having an experienced lawyer fight for you can minimize your chances of suffering adverse effects if the government charges you with this crime. In Albuquerque, the aggressive defense lawyers from the New Mexico Criminal Law Offices prioritize clearing your name and will be by your side throughout the criminal process. Contact our attorneys today.

    New Mexico Counterfeiting Laws

    New Mexico does not have a specific counterfeiting statute, unlike federal law. However, a person using counterfeit notes to obtain something of value in return commits fraud. 

    According to the New Mexico Statutes, fraud is the intentional misappropriation or taking of anything of value belonging to another by means of fraudulent conduct, practices, or misrepresentations.

    Federal law establishes a wide range of criminal laws to punish making and passing counterfeit notes. 

    • Anyone who makes or forges counterfeit currency violates federal law
    • Anyone who passes, utters, sells, attempts to pass, utter, or sell, or possesses or conceals counterfeit notes with the intent to defraud violates federal law. 
    • Possessing equipment used to print fake money and merely possessing the distinctive paper or bogus deterrent measures also violates federal law.

    We can help you if the government charges you for any of these crimes.

    What Are the Federal Punishments for Using Counterfeit Money?

    The punishment for making, possessing, or passing counterfeit notes under federal law can be incredibly harsh. Most counterfeiting crimes carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison. However, some offenses allow for 25 years in federal prison. The court could assess a $250,000 fine as well. You might have to pay restitution if any victims lose money.

    Punishments for Using Counterfeit Money Under New Mexico Law

    The potential punishment for a fraud conviction under New Mexico state law depends on the value of the goods or property received after passing a counterfeit note. The penalties escalate as the value of the property increases.


    A person commits a petty misdemeanor when the property’s value is $250 or less. The punishment for a petty misdemeanor is no more than six months in the county jail. Police will charge you a misdemeanor if the property falls between $250 and $500. The punishment for a misdemeanor is no more than one year in the county jail. 


    Felony offenses in New Mexico have basic sentences that act as a starting point. However, the judge could add time depending on your criminal history or the presence of aggravating factors.

    Fourth-degree felony

    You face a fourth-degree felony if the property taken is worth $500 to $2,500. Additionally, passing counterfeit money to purchase a firearm is a fourth-degree felony. A person convicted of a fourth-degree felony in New Mexico could receive 18 months in prison as a basic sentence. 

    Third-degree felony

    You could face a third-degree felony if the property is valued at $2,500 up to $20,000. The punishment for a third-degree felony is a three-year basic sentence. Again, a judge could increase this basic sentence depending on your criminal history or the presence of aggravating factors. 

    Second-degree felony

    Finally, you face a second-degree felony if the property’s value exceeds $20,000. The basic sentence for a second-degree felony conviction is nine years in prison. 

    The basic prison sentences carry no minimum-mandatory period of incarceration. A judge could also defer judgment and put you on probation or a suspended sentence. 

    Why Would the “Feds” Take My Case?

    Since the Treasury Department issues currency for the U.S., it stands to reason that the Treasury’s law enforcement branch—the Secret Service—investigates crimes involving counterfeit money.  

    Which Cases Do They Typically Take?

    However, they don’t investigate every instance of a potential crime. For instance, if the Secret Service gets notified that someone used a fake bill to buy something at a store, they might not investigate such an isolated incident. Even though they are the federal government, they do not have unlimited resources. So the Secret Service tends to reserve its resources for investigations involving the printing of counterfeit currency or flooding the market with counterfeit money.

    Who Decides?

    The Department of Justice and the local United States Attorney’s Office will decide whether or not to pursue federal charges. They often consider the nature of the offense, the strength of the evidence (the feds hate to lose), and your criminal history when determining if they should indict you. They could decline federal prosecution and refer the case to New Mexico state prosecutors.

    You need to contact an experienced, knowledgeable, and skilled criminal defense lawyer to protect your rights if any law enforcement agency, especially the federal authorities, has opened an investigation into your actions. 

    Defenses to Counterfeit Money Charges

    Asserting the right defense for your case requires a thorough analysis of the facts. One of the most commonly used defenses in counterfeit money cases focuses on the lack of intent to defraud. 

    The prosecutor always has the burden of proving each element beyond a reasonable doubt. But proving you had the intent to defraud someone is often difficult. Prosecutors usually use circumstantial evidence to attempt to prove what you were thinking, but it is a tall task. Therefore, explaining that you were mistaken or were unwittingly involved in the counterfeiting scheme could be your best defense. However, you might have other defenses available. For instance, your lawyer could move to suppress statements or evidence that police seized illegally. After analyzing your case, a seasoned attorney can assess your best defense. 

    Using Counterfeit Bills To Shop: What Are the Consequences?

    Contact our office today to get the defense you deserve. We pride ourselves on using unique and cutting-edge arguments to give you the best chance at a positive outcome. 

    We have over two decades of experience fighting aggressively for our clients. Our experience could mean the difference between losing all that you have and putting this episode behind you. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.