California Laws on Counterfeit Money

In the U.S., most citizens use Federal Reserve Notes as money, but money can take many forms, including property, coins, checks, bonds and stocks. Counterfeiting federal currency or engaging in interstate commerce while counterfeiting any financial instrument will lead to a federal conviction. The state of California governs the manufacturing and distribution of counterfeit coins and financial instruments within the state under Sections 470 through 483.5 of the California Penal Code.


According to Section 470 of the California Penal Code, the state can charge any resident who knowingly manipulates or creates a financial instrument with the intent to defraud a business or another individual as a counterfeiter. Common examples of money counterfeiting include modifying the value on a check, receipt for goods, lottery ticket, money order or state bond.


Per Chapter 4 Section 479 CPC, any person who has in his possession or facilitates the distribution of counterfeit gold and silver coin in California may receive a felony forgery conviction. According to Section 480(a) of the CPC, any person who owns or makes dies or plates, to counterfeit gold bullion, bars, coins or nuggets, will receive a felony conviction, and all counterfeiting equipment will be destroyed by law enforcement. Counterfeit coins may violate the intellectual property rights of a private or state mint, or they may contain fraudulent weights or incorporate a lesser value material such as lead.


For a California resident to be convicted of criminal forgery, the prosecuting attorney general, district attorney or city attorney must provide evidence that a defendant knowingly tried to pass off or create counterfeit coins or financial instruments accord to 483.5 of the California Penal Code. This process involves obtaining testimony from witness or forgery experts and collecting proof of malicious intent.

Criminal Penalties

The penalties for forgery range from a misdemeanor to a felony. For misdemeanor counterfeiting of less than $400 in value, a defendant may receive a county prison sentence of up to a year. For felony forgery convictions, defendants will receive a sentence of up to three years in a California state prison. Counterfeiting gold and silver coin or bullion results in a state prison sentence of either two, three or four years. Under California’s Three Strikes Law, individuals who are convicted of their third felony will receive much harsher sentences.


Per the California penal code, individuals charged with counterfeiting may pay a fine in addition to serving a prison sentence. A judge may levy a fine of up to $10,000 for a felony and up to $1,000 for a misdemeanor forgery. Convicted California residents also have to pay restitution to victims and must participate in a community service program if ordered to do so by a judge.