Massachusetts Appeals Court Upholds Man’s Conviction for Uttering a Counterfeit $100 Bill

The Massachusetts Appeals Court today affirmed the convictions of a man who had been accused of passing a counterfeit $100 bill to pay for gas in Barnstable.  The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Tavares

A jury convicted the defendant of uttering a counterfeit note, possessing counterfeit currency, and larceny by false pretenses based on an incident that occurred in October of 2011, when a man drove his SUV into the West Main Gas Station.  There was a woman sitting in the passenger’s seat.  The driver requested $30 of gas, which was pumped by the attendant.  The driver then gave the attendant a $100 bill and received $70 in change.  The attendant looked at the bill and told the driver that it was counterfeit, and the driver fled the scene.  The attendant was not able to provide a detailed description of the driver to the police.

About three and a half hours later, a Barnstable police officer stopped an SUV approximately one mile away from the gas station.  A woman was driving and the defendant was sitting in the passenger’s seat.  The defendant appeared drunk and was belligerent.  The police placed the defendant into protective custody and searched him.  He had a $100 bill in his pocket and there was a second $100 bill in the center console of the SUV.  Both bills were obviously counterfeit, and they had the same serial number (which also matched the serial number of the $100 bill given to the gas station attendant).  The defendant argued on appeal that the evidence was insufficient to establish that he had been the driver at the gas station who had passed the counterfeit bill (the gas station attendant was unable to identify him at trial).  He also argued that there was insufficient evidence to prove that he knew the bills he possessed were counterfeit.  The Appeals Court rejected both arguments.

The three Appeals Court justices who presided over the case personally examined the bills and concluded that they appeared patently counterfeit, based on their appearance and feel.  The Court said that the bills consisted of two sheets of paper strips that were glued together in a haphazard manner.  It would have been clear to any rational jury that the bills were fake.

While acknowledging that it was a circumstantial case, the Court also concluded that the Commonwealth had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was the driver of the SUV who had given the fake bill to the gas station attendant.  The defendant was found within a couple of hours of the gas station incident in an SUV that matched the attendant’s description of the vehicle.  He possessed two counterfeit $100 bills that contained the same serial number as that displayed on the bill given to the gas station attendant.  He was stopped approximately one mile away from the gas station.  When considered together, all of these facts would have allowed the jury to reasonably infer that the defendant was the same person who had used the fake bill at the gas station earlier in the evening.

While it sounds like the counterfeit bills in this case were obviously not real, the defendant’s state of mind is the most common defense in these types of cases.  If the bills look real, the defendant could not have known that they were counterfeits.