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Can you really get arrested for doodling on dollars?

by J. Money on Tuesday, August 31, 2010

jail dollar

I am wondering because I may or may not like to draw on ‘em,  A LOT. And I’ve never heard of anyone getting arrested or even receive a firm talking to for drawing on money.   My sister once got a nice little visit from the FBI because her friend was passing around *fake* dollars she had made on her dad’s scanner, but I think counterfeiting money is way different than prettying them up. Or making art projects out of them.

When I google it, I get this:

Yes, it is called Mutilation of national bank obligations

United States Code
TITLE 18 – CRIMES AND CRIMINAL PROCEDURE
PART I – CRIMES
CHAPTER 17 – COINS AND CURRENCY
§ 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.”

OMG I’m going to jail.  But what If I never put it back into circulation?  What if I have a wall, let’s say, full of dollars I drew all over to show my fellow Americans how proud I am of our George Washingtons and Benji Franklins? If they never see another cash register again, do I get leniency? Could it then be considered “art?”  I hope so… not that I already have this wall or anything…

And what of my J. Money icon?  Or my image from yesterday’s post? If it’s digital, it’s not really REAL, right?  Could one of these doodled dollars be the same as the other digital dollars when I log onto online banking? I’m kinda perplexed, but I also kinda don’t wanna know the answers either.

I like the idea of expressing myself on federal reserve paper. I don’t know many other places I could get a 2.61″ by 6.14″ canvas for so cheap! I worked hard for those dollars, and I feel like if I don’t want to trade it for something of equal or less value, I shouldn’t have to. But don’t go telling the police.  If they were to show up I can’t promise I’d be so brave.


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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jeff @ sustainablelifeblog August 31, 2010 at 8:54 am

Breakin the law…breakin the law….

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2 LindyMint August 31, 2010 at 9:34 am

In another discussion of money as art, Re-nest/Apartment Therapy has been talking about using real pennies to tile your floor (a clever take on “penny tiles”). It is actually less expensive than the ceramic penny tiles.

http://www.re-nest.com/re-nest/roundup/real-penny-tiling-roundup-123419

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3 J. Money August 31, 2010 at 10:04 am

LOVE that!!! Oh man, I totally want to do that now in our bathroom. Or better yet, my Blogger Lair’s bathroom! Ooooooh, that would make me so happy.

@Jeff – You don’t think making it art is fine?

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4 Nadia March 11, 2013 at 10:48 pm

I’m pretty sure that @Jeff was referencing Beavis and Butthead when they sing Judas Priest. Or just Judas Priest. :) Honestly I see people draw on dollar bills all the time. I don’t think it’s a huge deal, as long as you leave it in a manner that it could still be confirmed as being non-counterfeit then you should be fine.

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5 J. Money March 14, 2013 at 12:22 am

d’oh. I was never allowed to watch Beavis and Butthead growing up, haha…. lame.

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6 Molly On Money August 31, 2010 at 10:35 am

The penny floor is gorgeous!
I once decoupaged pictures of vintage pin-up girls on my kitchen floor. My Grandfather ended up moving in and LOVED to hang out in the kitchen. I’m not kidding!

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7 Khaleef @ KNS Financial August 31, 2010 at 12:18 pm

I guess you better start a “dollar mutilation fine fund” and hope you don’t go to jail!

I agree about the penny floor, I’m sure it gets pretty cold though!

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8 Techbud August 31, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Thumbs up on the penny floor!

Who actually enforced the Mutilation of national bank obligations? I’d like to hear that 911 call.

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9 J. Money August 31, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Mmmmm…..vintage pin-up girls…

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10 Jenna August 31, 2010 at 1:55 pm

I hope our tax dollars are going after something more than people doodling on dollar bills. Although I do remember telling my mom that my younger brother was going to be in trouble if he kept doodling on his dollar bills. I think the biggest issue is if you try and use them after “sprucing them up” and having someone not accept them.

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11 Jason@LiveRealNow August 31, 2010 at 4:50 pm

“with intent to render such bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt unfit to be reissued” is the key phrase.

If you’re not intending to render it useless, it’s not a crime. If you are, how,exactly could that be enforced?

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12 Nunzio Bruno August 31, 2010 at 8:10 pm

That’s interesting and as long as masses of people don’t do it then I think you’ll be fine. I guess in the large macro picture if enough currency is taken out of circulation faster than its being injected then you might have started some kind of effect on inflation. It would take A LOT though. So I’m with everyone saying your probably safe and if you believe you’re deriving more utility than the opportunity cost of that currency earning interest then who’s to stop you right. – A penny floor would be kind of cool though :)

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13 myfinancialobjectives August 31, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Please, you have to post a picture of this wall of dollars that you supposedly “don’t” have!!

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14 J. Money August 31, 2010 at 9:29 pm

What wall? :)

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15 Stacking_Cash August 31, 2010 at 11:55 pm

I think the problem of mutilating money is that you are destroying federal property. By destroying money it costs the Fed more money to print more money. I wonder how much it costs the Fed to print money with all the anti counterfeit protections they incorporate into it…

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16 Andrew September 3, 2010 at 1:02 am

You’re hilarious! I have to admit I did not know whether this was illegal or not. I’ve had a fair amount of bills in my time doodled on but have never had trouble using them. I say if you want to create a wall of mustached Washington’s, that’s up to you!

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17 J. Money September 4, 2010 at 11:23 am

If you make it out to one of our happy hours Andrew, I expect you to bring me one ;)

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18 Andrew September 4, 2010 at 11:37 am

Haha! Sounds like a plan!

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19 Jocelin Atkinson February 6, 2013 at 7:28 am

I am a law abiding citizen I am curious! What would a police officer do if a person comes up to the officer and rip up a dollar bill?

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20 J. Money February 6, 2013 at 8:56 am

Haha, I have no idea but I don’t want to be the one who finds out! ;) I bet half of them don’t even know it’s illegal anyways though…

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