Is It Illegal To Deface Money? (Law & Penalty)

Money burning, cutting, writing effects

Is it illegal to deface money? Yes, it is illegal to deface or destroy your money, and you’ll be punished for that. The punishment and fine vary from country to country, and some countries take this case easily, or some take it as a major crime. So be careful, and know about the laws. I will discuss the law and punishment for money defacing like burning, writing, cutting, drawing, or destroying. Let’s learn.

Is it illegal to write on money?

There are two separate statutes, one dealing with paper money bills and the other with coinage. So let’s address the paper money 1/1. The statute says that,

It is a misdemeanor for anyone to quote, mutilate, cut, deface, disfigure or perforate or unite or cement together or do any other thing with intent to render the money unfit for re-issuance.

The big question is that last phrase that says with intent to render the money unfit for re-issuance. It’s not clear whether it only applies to doing any other thing or to all of the disallowed things, such as mutilation, cutting, and defacement. That’s a significant difference because in the first interpretation,

All mutilation, disfigurement, cutting of paper money is a misdemeanor and can be punishable with a fine and or imprisonment of up to 6 months.

But if the intent to render it has to be applied to each of them, you can mutilate, cut, and disfigure all you want as long as you’re not doing it with the intent to render the money unfit for re-issuance.

Also, there is unsurprisingly not very much case law interpreting the statute. Not many people are prosecuted for defacing money, which is telling in and of itself. Let’s look at the coinage law. That law is a little bit stricter. It says,

Anyone with fraudulent intent alters to face mutilates, and pairs diminish falsifies scales or lighten a US currency coin is guilty of a felony and can be in prison for up to 5 years.

Is burning money illegal?

Yes, it’s illegal to burn money, and you can get a ten-year prison sentence. The actual regulations state that you can’t cut the money, punch holes in it, or change the denomination. If you burn money, you alter the appearance and change the denomination.

According to the Department of the Treasury’s Official Regulations:

Whoever mutilates, cuts, disfigures, perforates, unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill to render such items unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

I’m discouraging you from defacing money because that’s against the law.


Sources:

Columbia Journalism Review: CNBC’s Kudlow: On-Air Lawbreaker?
United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary (1989). The Flag Protection Act of 1989: report together with additional and minority views (to accompany S. 1338). Senate Report. Vol. 101–152. Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O. Reprinted in Curtis, Michael Kent (1993). The Constitution and the Flag: The flag-burning cases. Vol. 2. p. 434.
Acosta, Rocky. “Currency as Art 2.0 – Defacing Bills”.
Carver, T. N. “The Relation of Thrift to Nation Building”.
Ruling (EU) n. 1210/2010 of the European Parliament and Council.

Julia Rose

My name is Julia Rose. I'm a registered clinical therapist, researcher, and coach. I'm the author of this blog. There are also two authors: Dr. Monica Ciagne, a registered psychologist and motivational coach, and Douglas Jones, a university lecturer & science researcher. I would love to hear your opinion, question, suggestions, please let me know. We will try to help you.

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