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High court sidesteps fake currency case

  • Story Highlights
  • Justices refuse to hear appeal of former Texas Wal-Mart cashier
  • She was convicted of knowingly accepting fake $100 bills
  • Her acquaintance used color printer to copy real currency
By Bill Mears
CNN Supreme Court Producer
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Supreme Court sidestepped the issue of counterfeit conspiracy Monday in a case that asks how realistic fake money can be before it warrants criminal charges.

The justices refused without comment to accept an appeal from a Wal-Mart cashier who was convicted of knowingly accepting bogus $100 bills that were made with a home printer.

At issue was how "succinctly similar" to the real thing must phony currency be to support a charge of counterfeiting conspiracy.

The case involves Crystal Porter, who was an 18-year-old store employee in Seagoville, Texas, in 2005. She was approached by an acquaintance -- a drug dealer named Carlos -- who was looking for a way to pass fake money. Carlos, with the help of another woman, had used a color copier to create images from a real $100 bill, using manila paper with the opposing sides glued together and crumpled to make it look used.

The results, Porter's lawyer said, were "predictably unimpressive." Nevertheless, when approached by Carlos, Porter "looked at the fake money and said, 'Yeah, this will work,' " according to the court transcript of the case.

The bills were exchanged for $500 worth of Wal-Mart gift certificates. It did not take long for company officials to trace the fake bills back to the young woman, who was tried and convicted of conspiracy to manufacturing and passing "counterfeit obligations of the United States."

On appeal, she claimed that "no unsuspecting person of ordinary observation and care" would believe that the bills in question would be considered genuine. Since the money did not look real, Porter argued, it was legally impossible for her to have conspired to manufacture and pass the counterfeit bills.

The trial judge had refused to allow the jury to consider that question, and a federal appeals court upheld the conviction.

The government says the crime was about conspiracy and intent, and less about the "realness" of the bills.

The case is Porter v. U.S. (08-1109).

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