Sunday, May 8, 2016

Defacing US Currency

Time to continue the not-really-a-series “Casey gets way too into researching something and decides to write a blog post about it” that started with Days of Our Lives. This year: US currency defacement.

After watching this video about making a money clip out of a dollar bill and resin, I began wondering about the legality of damaging United States money. After some cursory research, I wrote a long comment on the video beginning with:

TL;DR: Yes, defacing bills is technically always illegal. But really don’t worry about it.

I figured that I would expand upon this idea here.


Under 18 U.S. Code § 331 - Mutilation, diminution, and falsification of coins:

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 actual use or circulation as money within the United States; [or attempts to use such a coin] … Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

This would seem to make coin modification illegal. Does this mean all of those penny-stamping machines are breaking federal law every day? No. Note the adverb “fraudulently” in that statement. Altering coins is only illegal if it is done for a fraudulent purpose, such as restamping a penny into a dime or trying to shave bits of copper off pennies for scrap. Coin jewelry and the like is therefore entirely legal, as is addressed on the Treasury Department website (emphasis added):

[18 U.S.C. § 331] means that you may be violating the law if you change the appearance of the coin and fraudulently represent it to be other than the altered coin that it is. As a matter of policy, the U.S. Mint does not promote colo[u]ring, plating or altering U.S. coinage: however, there are no sanctions against such activity absent fraudulent intent.


Bills, however, are a different matter. To again quote the law, under 18 U.S. Code § 333 - Mutilation of national bank obligations:

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.

This definitely does prevent bill mutilation under any circumstances. Note the lack of a “fraudulently” qualifier or any other requirements for maleficent intent. There is some wiggle room created by the requirement of having “intent to render such bank bill … unfit to be reissued”, which is why stamping, stapling, pinning, or even writing (in small amounts) on bills is legal. However, you are likely out of luck if you were intending to, say, wallpaper your house with Benjamins (though that idea was likely ill-advised anyway).

The Constitution Saves the Day?

After reading about this seemingly-arbitrary[1] difference between bills and coins, a libertarian-minded person might be thinking, “Why should the government get to prevent me destroying my own money? What about my constitutional rights?” Well, it turns out, the Constitution may indeed have something to say about this, and to understand why one must examine the similar issue of flag desecration.

In 1968, allegedly in response to Vietnam War protests, Congress passed the Flag Protection Act of 1968, which criminalized the desecration of the US flag. The law, which eventually became 18 U.S. Code § 700 originally read:

Whoever knowingly casts contempt upon any flag of the United States by publicly mutilating, defacing, defiling, burning, or trampling upon it shall be fined not more than $1,000 or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both. (Source)

In 1989, the Supreme Court (in Texas v. Johnson) effectively stuck down this law[2], claiming that flag burning as “expressive conduct” was “protected speech” under the First Amendment. In the wake of this decision, Congress attempted to amend the law to make it constitutional by prohibiting the mistreatment of the flag regardless of political message (basically just removing the “cast contempt” part). During the consideration of the amendment bill, “former U.S. Attorney General William Barr testified that any regulation protecting something purely for its symbolic value would be struck down as unconstitutional” (Wikipedia). The Senate Judiciary Committee presumably rejected this argument, as they wrote in their report that “Barr’s theory would render 18 U.S.C. § 333 [the prohibition on money desecration] unconstitutional as well” (Wikipedia again) and the bill was passed into law. In 1990, the amended Flag Protection Act was again struck down[3] by the Supreme Court in United States v. Eichman, in which it was again decided that flag burning was protected speech.


So where does that leave burning or defacing bills? Likely in a legal grey area. Having never actually been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, 18 U.S.C. § 333 is still most definitely a law that people can be prosecuted under. However, if the case made it to appeal, the precedent of United States v. Eichman would prove difficult for the prosecution to refute. Furthermore, there have been several very public money-burning demonstrations by public figures in the recent past (again, see Wikipedia), but as yet no prosecution, as far as I am aware. One can therefore plausibly conclude that: (a) the government is refraining from prosecuting money-desecrators due to the legal difficulty of doing so, (b) that they do not care enough about small-scale money burning to prosecute regardless, or (c) some combination of the two.

Which brings us back to where we started.

TL;DR: Yes, defacing bills is technically always illegal. But really don’t worry about it.

Appendix - Canada

In my home country of Canada, oddly enough, the reverse is true. Under the Criminal Code of Canada, section 456:

456 Every one who

(a) defaces a current coin, or

(b) utters [uses] a current coin that has been defaced,

is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction[4].

However, neither I nor far better-qualified individuals can find a statute banning the destruction or defacement of bills. This notably came to public attention when a Calgary radio station burned $5000 at the behest of an online poll. According to a National Post article chronicling the event, “Calgary police confirmed that the law only forbids the destruction of coins, not banknotes.” Good luck trying to burn the new money, though.

  1. This difference is likely not very arbitrary at all. The purpose of laws protecting coinage was and is largely to prevent “sweating” and similar scams (i.e., shaving small amounts of metal off coins for the scrap value and then proceeding to spend the coins to recoup their monetary value). Contrarily, the purpose of bill protection seems to be largely symbolic. While destroying large quantities of currency would theoretically cause deflation, and force the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to pay to replace the bills, the effect of a few destroyed bills on the macroeconomy would be laughable at best, and it literally costs the BEP pennies on the dollar to replace currency (which they wouldn’t bother doing anyways for such small quantities; monetary policy is not dictated to the cent).  ↩

  2. They actually struck down a similar Texas state law, but the precedent could easily hold for federal law as well.  ↩

  3. As mentioned in the previous footnote, technically struck down the first time.  ↩

  4. Basically Canada’s equivalent of a misdemeanour, punishable by a maximum of 6 months in prison and/or a $5000 fine.  ↩

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Lessons from a Liberal-NDP Accord

Election 2015: Lessons from a Liberal-NDP Accord

The party with the most seats does not have to form the government!

As it looks unlikely that any party will have a majority in Parliament after the upcoming election, it is very important to get past single-party partisan politics and think about how a government would be formed. This article has some relevant history and interesting ideas! Neither the Liberal nor the NDP need to support a minority Conservative government, but they could cooperate to form a government, even if it is not a coalition.

Friday, December 26, 2014

How Long Would It Take to Watch ALL of Days of Our Lives?

This is a question that came up this week as I am visiting relatives for Christmas, two of whom are regular watchers of NBC's Days of our Lives daily soap. As of this post, 12 493 episodes have been aired.

I began by calculating the running time of all these episodes, making a few assumptions. From 1965 until 1975, the show was 30 minutes long, but from 1975 since, all episodes have been 1 hour (60 minutes) long. Therefore, I assumed in my calculations that roughly one fifth of all DOOL episodes are 30 minutes long, and that the rest are 1 hour long. By this logic, watching all episodes to date would take (0.2*12493*0.5)+(0.8*12493) hours, or approximately 11 244.

If one watched all DOOL episodes to date continuously, it would take them 468.5 days, just over 1.25 years! If we are more reasonable* and assume that it is your full-time job to watch DOOL, then at 40 hours a week it would take you 281.1 weeks or approximately 5.4 years with no break time to watch DOOL to what is now the current episode.

However, if you wanted to watch EVERY episode, and be up to date with the episode current to the time you finished watching, it would take you far longer, as you would be in a game of catchup. Luckily* for you, you can watch 40 hours/week while only 7 hours/week of new content is released.

One can solve for the total time taken to catch up to the present episode, in weeks, with the formula y = , since you are watching 40 hours/week and 7 hours/week of new content is added. This solves to  y = 11244/33, or approximately 340.72 weeks. This works out to just over SIX AND A HALF YEARS!

Given all of this, I would be VERY interested if anyone can find evidence that someone has watched every single episode of DOOL, as I would imagine that many people who have watched in "real time" from the beginning will have likely quit or died by this point. Leave a comment or email me if this person exists.

* This is a relative term.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

From the Archives: Cannabis Speech

For this post, I decided to pull an assignment out of the archives for posting because I believe it to be an excellent example of both an effective speech outline and a sound argument in favour of something. While I myself obviously have no personal interest in the legalization of marijuana, I found the topic's notoriety to be interesting academically, since I could see no realistic reason why it should not be as legal as alcohol or cigarettes. In researching for this speech, I also found out about many of its less obvious benefits, such as reducing the risk of breast cancer. All information is accurate as of the time the post was written, which was in my Grade 9 year (2012-2013). I dug it up recently as a result of an assignment in my Law 12 course.

One might also note that while this is the form of the speech as I gave it, the original was nearly twice as long and had even more arguments and talking points.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Kelowna ATIS "Merry Christmas"

Earlier this evening, I was listening to the Kelowna ATIS phone line (yes, I have odd hobbies; its at 250-491-0310 if you're interested) when I was surprised to hear it say "Merry Christmas". Naturally, I recorded this event, and have embedded it below, along with a transcript.

From the description:

This was taken around 20:00 local time from the CYLW (Kelowna International)ATIS phone line (250-491-0310) on Christmas Day, 2013. I am an avid ATIS listener, as my school is near the airport and I need the weather readings, and was surprised to hear the ATIS say "Merry Christmas". I therefore recorded it on my iPhone via a cable to my computer for posterity.


Kelowna Airport, Information Quebec
Weather at Zero Three Two One Zulu
Automated Observation
Wind One Four Zero at Six
Visibility Niner
Niner Hundred broken
One Thousand Four Hundred overcast
Temperature Zero
Dew point Minus One
Altimeter Three Zero Three Eight
IFR approach ILS DME runway One Six
Active, runway One Six
Runway surface condition at Zero Three Zero One Zulu
One Hundred Percent bare and wet
Chemical Applied
Merry Christmas
Inform ATC that you have information Quebec

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Unitarian Fellowship of Kelowna: November 3rd Service (BETA)

The mp3 file embedded above is a copy of an edited version of the "sermon" given at the November 3rd, 2013 Sunday service at the Unitarian Fellowship of Kelowna. I consider this recording to be in "Beta" (i.e. there are some kinks that need to be worked out), but so far as I can tell the recording (which is taken directly from the mixer's output) sounds fine. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Dreams of Mars (Draft 1)

Similar to my last post, I have again been assigned to write a 600 to 1000 word story upon a particular theme. In this case, I was to analyze the poem "Utopia" by Wislawa Szymborska, which won a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996. I was then to explore this theme through a 600 to 1000 word narrative. I have decided to post this narrative now, in its current form, because the most likely edits I will be making will be exclusively to meet school requirements, such as including certain types and numbers of different parts of speech. The full story is below.