Why is burning bills illegal and a crime in the United States?

Do you have so much money that you wouldn’t mind throwing away some bills? Congratulations! Being able to enjoy economic liquidity -so much so as not to worry about saving- is part of the American dream. But nevertheless, You should find a smart way to say goodbye to those extra dollars because burning those bills is illegal in the United States.. You could donate them to a foundation or perhaps lend them to a friend who is in trouble.

That’s right: whatever you do, don’t burn your dollars! Burning bills is illegal – and a crime – in the United States. What does this mean? In simple words, that you could earn a criminal sentence of 10 years in prison and also have to pay a lot of money in fines.

Should you then “break” your dollars? Well, we don’t recommend it. In this country, any type of damage you can do to the currency, from breaking a bill, is illegal – it is not clear what will happen to those who are practicing their magic tricks. to damage a penny.

As you can see, the coin denomination has nothing to do: itself, the main point is respect the value of fiat currency.

Why burning dollar bills is illegal

Why is burning bills illegal and a crime in the United States?

With this clear, you may be asking yourself a valid question: Why is burning bills illegal and a crime in the United States? The story begins many years ago. How much? Well, we would have to go back to the beginning of the use of precious metals, like gold and silver, for the minting of legal circulation coins.

At that time, criminal gangs did not “print dollars” or engage in money laundering. So how did they make money (without robbing a bank, of course)? Easy: filing or cutting small pieces of coin to save the scraps. The filed coins were used in the market, but they were adulterated. Whoever received them, did not realize that a piece of gold was missing and, therefore, was closing a deal for less money than agreed.

But, if this happened so long ago, why is it still valid? Well, because it will touch the Federal Reserve replace those banknotes and coins that have gone out of circulation due to being damaged or altered.

The cost of tickets is a factor to consider

Taking into account that making a $1 bill costs about 5.5 cents – and that this is a price that rises depending on the denomination, for example, a $100 bill costs 14 cents – pay the bill at the end of the year it would be an avoidable economic loss for the nation, especially if bill burning becomes a method of protest and, after a wave of unrest, hundreds of thousands of dollars are burned on the street.

Note: Before you lose your head, you should keep in mind that the chances of being prosecuted under the currency destruction law are remote. Why? Mainly because today’s coins do not contain a significant amount of precious metals. Therefore, it is impossible for a criminal gang to decide to file pennies to keep the profits, is it not?

Important: Do you think that burning the American flag in a protest is something immoral or that it should not be punished? Well, then you might think that damaging a coin or bill is just as good or bad. In fact, many people believe that burning bills should not be illegal and that it could be classified as a way to protest or to exercise the right to freedom of expression, a right that, as you will remember, is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. of the United States of America.

What do US laws say about destroying currency?

The federal law that prohibits the mutilation of coins – and that equates this action with a crime – is the Title 18, Section 331 of the year 1948. What does this law say? the next:

«Whoever fraudulently alters, defaces, mutilates, impairs, diminishes, falsifies, scales, or lightens any of the coins coined at the mints of the United States, or any foreign coins which are by law made current or are in current use or circulation as money within the United States; or whoever fraudulently possesses, passes, utters, publishes, or sells, or attempts to pass, utter, publish, or sell, or brings into the United States, any such coin, knowing the same to be altered, defaced, mutilated, impaired, diminished, falsified, scaled, or lightened shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”

Translation of the extract in Spanish: “Anyone who fraudulently alters, disfigures, mutilates, deteriorates, diminishes, falsifies, lowers, files or lightens the coins minted in the United States or those foreign coins that by law are in legal circulation or in use; or whoever, also fraudulently, possesses, issues, publishes, sells or attempts to obtain, issue, publish, sell or import one or more of these coins knowing that they have been altered, discounted, defaced, deteriorated or counterfeited; will be fined or sentenced to imprisonment for more than five years or receive both punishments; this as provided in this title.”

The key word in this excerpt is the word “fraudulent”. That is, heThe alteration of the currency must be intentional and probably have an illegal purpose, like ripping off the corner merchant, for example. Note that it is not only illegal – and a crime – to destroy or modify a coin minted in the United States: foreign coins that are in legal circulation in the country must also be respected.

What do the laws of the United States say about the destruction of banknotes?

The same federal law (but in its Title 18, Section 333) expresses on the destruction or alteration of banknotes the next:

«Whoever mutilates, cuts, defaces, disfigures, or perforates, or unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, or Federal Reserve bank, or the Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.”

Spanish translation: “Whoever mutilates, cuts, disfigures, perforates, joins, glues or does any act to a ticket, letter, note or any other evidence of debt issued by a national banking association, by the Federal Reserve Bank or by the Federal Reserve System with the intent to render said bill, bill, note, or evidence of debt unfit for reuse, cash, or reissue shall be fined under the provisions of this title, imprisoned for not more than six months , or both.”

Again, note how the intention of the legislators is protect the debt issuer or bearer and also to prevent a person from damaging a note to the point that it cannot be used for what it was designed for, that is, commercial exchange per se.

However -and unlike the previous text- no reference is made to bills or notes to the collector that have been issued outside the United States, so perhaps burning a euro within American territory would not be a crime. (Although it is better that you do not try).

Can I go to prison in the United States for burning a bill or mutilating a coin?

Possibly not. It is very rare that someone is investigated, arrested, and tried for debasing the American currency.. As we said earlier, the purpose of these laws – except perhaps for the section dealing with banknotes – has been lost. Coins no longer have an intrinsic value in themselves thanks to the low amount of precious metals they contain.

In fact, museums and mints have active penny pressing machines that are allowed because their purpose is not per se to demean, insult, or modify American currency for fraud, profit, or swindle; but to create a nice memory of the visit.

Does this mean that no one has ever gone to prison for this crime? Not necessarily. The most notorious case in the country happened in 1963 when an 18-year-old Marine was convicted of carving the edges of one-cent coins to make them pass for a larger denomination coin and thus buy -for free- in the vending machines of Drinks and food.

Ronald Lee Foster, the American marine, was convicted of this crime, although he did not go to jail. He had to pay a fine of $20 -today, about $170- and he was given a year in prison on probation.

Keep reading: