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How a Single Act of Forgery Can Send You to Prison for Decades

Although the phrase “white collar crime” typically conjures up images of people in suits engaging in complex fraudulent schemes, in reality it broadly refers to any non-criminal act with a financial motive. One of the oldest white collar crimes is counterfeiting. And you do not need to be caught with a briefcase full of fake $100 bills. Even attempting to pass off a single counterfeit bill can lead to a felony conviction–and potentially send you to prison for decades.

Fake $20 Bill at Fast Food Restaurant Dooms Texarkana Defendant

For example, a man in Texarkana was recently sentenced to 40 years following a chain of events that started with him allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill to pay for a meal at a fast food restaurant in Kilgore. The restaurant contacted local police after realizing the note was a forgery. Three officers responded to the call. A witness described the vehicle the defendant was driving.

Shortly thereafter, the officers stopped the defendant’s vehicle. While interviewing the defendant and the other occupants of the vehicle, one of the officers “saw a crumpled bill on the front passenger seat.” The officer picked up the bill and “knew immediately that it was counterfeit by its feel and because it lacked the security measures of real currency,” according to court records.

Based on this evidence, the police arrested the defendant and one of the other passengers. The police then conducted a complete search of the car. The officers found a locked tote box. At this point, the officers said they suspected the defendant and his associate had illegal drugs in the car.

The officers asked the defendant for permission to search the locked box and trunk of his car. The defendant initially refused, but relented when the officers told him a canine unit–i.e., a drug-sniffing dog–was on the way. The police eventually unlocked the tote box and trunk and found additional evidence of counterfeiting activities.

At trial, the defendant moved to exclude this evidence on the grounds the police failed to obtain a search warrant first. While the prosecution conceded this was a warrantless search, it nevertheless argued the police’s actions were justified under established “exceptions” to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirements. The trial court–and later the Texas Sixth District Court of Appeals–agreed.

As a general rule, the Fourth District said, the police can search a vehicle when they have “probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains evidence of a crime.” Such a search is “reasonable” even if the police do not actually obtain a warrant. The defendant’s counterpoint was that once the officers realized he was the alleged counterfeiter, the “forgery investigation ended, and the officers had no reasonable suspicion to prolong his detention,” that is, to conduct the warrantless search of the tote box and trunk.

But that reasoning only applies in cases involving traffic stops, the appeals court said. Here, the officers did not detain the defendant for a traffic violation. Rather, they were specifically looking for the person who passed the counterfeit $20 bill at the restaurant. Once the officers identified the defendant as their suspect, that was enough to create probable cause to search the vehicle.

Taking Fraud & Forgery Charges Seriously in League City

Unfortunately for the defendant in the above case, he had two prior felony convictions on his record, so his final sentence for the forgery conviction was elevated to 40 years in prison. This emphasizes a critical point: white collar crimes in Galveston may be non-violent, but that does not mean Texas courts will treat them more leniently. If you have been charged with forgery or fraud and need assistance from a Houston white collar crimes defense attorney, call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today at (713) 802-1631 or contact us online.