A recent Massachusetts appellate case arose when a cop stopped to get coffee during his patrol hours. While in line, there was a commotion in which the defendant argued with the cashier. The cop didn’t hear the discussion but saw the defendant hurry away. After talking to the cashier, the cop followed the defendant and asked to talk to her.
The defendant was holding a $20 bill when she turned to answer the cop. Since he thought there was a problem with the bill, he asked if he could look at it and then called for backup. Upon being asked, the defendant said she’d gotten the bill while eating at a pizza parlor the previous night. The cop went back to the donut shop to talk to the cashier and then issued a summons to the defendant.
The defendant was charged for possessing counterfeit currency. An agent testified that the $20 bill was counterfeit, and he could tell because it wasn’t cut correctly so that the color was white at the edges, and there weren’t tiny red and blue fibers, nor a security strip running down the side of the bill, nor a watermark of Andrew Jackson. He testified it was a low quality counterfeit but also noted that the red flags to show a bill is counterfeit can be difficult to see if you aren’t searching for them. About $60-80 million in counterfeit currency is being circulated at any time.
At trial, the judge refused the defendant’s motion for a required not-guilty finding when the Commonwealth closed its case. He instructed the jury on proving the crime, stating that each element had to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt: (1) the defendant possessed a note, (2) the note was counterfeit, (3) the defendant intended to pass or utter the note, and (4) the defendant did so, knowing it was a counterfeit note. The jury came back with a guilty verdict, and the defendant moved for a required not-guilty finding, which was denied.
The appellate court explained that the circumstantial evidence provided by the prosecution wasn’t relevant to whether the defendant knew the bill was counterfeit. Simply observing the defendant leave the donut shop in a hurry didn’t prove she knew it was counterfeit, since it might instead show she was innocently frustrated that she couldn’t buy what she wanted.
The appellate court explained that if evidence tends to support two inconsistent propositions, neither of them is established by legitimate proof. Here, it was reasonable to infer that the commotion related to the $20, but the prosecution didn’t provide evidence about the defendant’s statements or acts related to the bill, so there was nothing allowing an inference that the defendant knew it was counterfeit.
The defendant didn’t testify, and the evidence didn’t show she had a reason to scrutinize the bill closely. The fact that she allowed him to look at the bill and waited while he called for backup shows she didn’t suspect it was a counterfeit. There was no evidence she had any consciousness of her guilt. The judgment was reversed.
If you are charged with a theft crime in Massachusetts, contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss the criminal charges. Call us at 617-367-0450 or contact us through this website.
More Blog Posts:
Assault and Battery Causing Serious Injury in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published January 14, 2015
Receiving Stolen Property in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 15, 2014