Counterfeiting is often confused with forgery, although the two are distinct acts. New Jersey considers counterfeiting to be a serious offense and those charged with it can face serious penalties. Below are all one needs to know about this crime, the penalties, and what one should do about a pending counterfeiting charge.
What is Counterfeiting?
Counterfeiting is the act of copying, without permission, a trademarked symbol, insignia or other mark used to distinguish or which is related to a registered product, brand or service. This can include products such as purses or watches, as well as currency. The use of counterfeit currency can violate both federal (18 U.S.C. § § 471, 472) and state law. This article will only address state-level charges.
What Are the Penalties for Counterfeiting in NJ?
The amount of prison time and fines that one can face for counterfeiting depends on the retail value and/or quantity of the items in question, as well as one’s criminal history. A person who is found in possession of 25 or more counterfeit items will be presumed to be in violation of the law.
Fourth-degree Counterfeiting. To be charged at this level, the following conditions must apply:
- The accused was in possession of 100 of fewer counterfeit items;
- The total retail value of the items was less than $1,000; or
- The offense involves a first conviction for counterfeiting.
A conviction of fourth-degree counterfeiting carries a punishment of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
Third-degree Counterfeiting. Individuals can be charged in the third degree if:
- He/she is found in possession of between 100 and 1,000 counterfeit items;
- The retail value of such items is between $1,000 and $15,000; or
- The offense involves a second conviction for counterfeiting.
A conviction of third-degree counterfeiting carries a punishment of 3 to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Second-degree Counterfeiting. This charge applies when:
- One is accused of having 1,000 or more counterfeit items;
- The retail value of such items is $15,000 or more; or
- The offense involves a third conviction.
A conviction of second-degree counterfeiting carries a punishment of 5 to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000.
In addition to these penalties, a conviction for counterfeiting can expose one to a civil lawsuit from the trademark’s proper owner.
How is Counterfeiting Different from Forgery?
Both counterfeiting and forgery are false document crimes allege that someone had copied something without permission to do so and with intent to defraud someone. The core difference is that forgery is usually limited to types of documents, such as legal certificates (e.g. diplomas), identification cards (e.g. driver’s license or birth certificate), contracts, etc. Counterfeiting usually pertains to goods, especially those with specific brand markers, such as clothing or electronics.
Can a Counterfeiting Charge be Expunged in NJ?
A person with a counterfeiting conviction may still be able to have his/her criminal record expunged. An expungement means the record is isolated so that only a small handful of authorities can access it. Since counterfeiting is an indictable offense (felony), there are strict requirements for expungement. Firstly, one must wait six years after completing any sentencing, parole and/or payment of fines. Secondly, the person cannot have been convicted of any other felonies unless they were part of the same judgment or were committed as part of a sequence of events over a short period of time. Thirdly, one cannot have more than three disorderly persons offenses on their record. For more information, read our expungements page.
Defenses to Counterfeiting in NJ
In order to convict someone of counterfeiting in New Jersey, prosecutors must be able to prove three things:
- The defendant had possession of the items in question.
- The defendant was not authorized to produce or distribute the items.
- The defendant intended to defraud or deceive another.
“Possession” implies that the defendant had ownership or authority over the illegal items. A person’s proximity to counterfeit goods does not automatically mean he/she had possession. For example, a person who is one of several inside a home or vehicle in which counterfeit money is discovered is not presumed to be in possession until prosecutors can prove that the specific defendant had control or authority over the fake cash.
Likewise, a person can avoid a conviction for counterfeiting if he/she can disprove (or prevent prosecutors from proving) that he/she knew the items were false and illegal, and therefore could not have intended to defraud another person. If the counterfeit goods are poor quality and obviously false, however, the prosecutor may counter by insisting that the defendant could not have reasonably believed them to be legitimate.
Why Hire an Attorney for Counterfeiting Charges?
While it is possible to beat a charge of counterfeiting, the odds are stacked against someone who tries to go it alone. Even an innocent person answering questions honestly can find themselves in serious legal trouble under such allegations. Therefore, it is critical that anyone charged with counterfeiting in New Jersey hire an experienced criminal defense attorney. A skilled attorney can analyze the facts of the case to determine the best possible defense strategy. He/she can use his/her knowledge of the law to recognize when evidence may have been obtained or an arrest made improperly, which could result in charges being dropped or evidence being suppressed (meaning it can’t be used in court). In many cases, the best strategy is to negotiate with prosecutors to reduce the charges to a lesser offense with less severe penalties.
Who Should You Contact?
If you or a loved one was charged with possession, manufacture or distribution of counterfeit goods or currency in New Jersey, contact the attorneys at Rosenblum Law today. Our skilled criminal defense attorneys can defend your constitutional rights, fight to keep you out of jail and do what we can to have the charges dismissed. E-mail or call today at 888-815-3694.