Homeless Man Who Tried To Buy Toothpaste With Counterfeit $20 Gets "Reduced" Six-Year Sentence

Pedestrians regard a homeless person sleeping outside the Macy's store at Manhattan's Herald Square January 11, 2019 in New York. A homeless man who used a counterfeit $20 note to try to buy toothpaste has seen his sentenced reduced from up to eight years to up to six years. DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty

A homeless man has seen his sentence reduced from up to eight to up to six years in prison after trying to use a counterfeit $20 bill to buy food and toothpaste in New York City.

Levi Mitchell, 53, had initially been sentenced to serve up to eight years in prison after being found guilty of trying to use the fake $20 bill at a pharmacy, before trying once again at a nearby restaurant in March 2015. However, on Tuesday, the New York Supreme Court's Appellate Division decided to reduce his sentence to between three and six years.

According to the court's decision, Mitchell had first entered a pharmacy and tried to pay for a tube of toothpaste using a counterfeit $20 bill. After the bill was rejected by a cashier, the 53-year-old was observed by police attempting to purchase food with the fake note.

After a cashier at the restaurant also refused the counterfeit note, Mitchell approached another fast-food restaurant, where he was stopped by police, who recovered five counterfeit $20 bills from him upon arrest.

"Despite being charged with five counts of possession of a forged instrument, the jury only convicted him of a single count and acquitted him of the remaining charges," the decision notes.

It states the court has decided to "reduce this sentence in the interest of justice" bringing Mitchell's sentence down to "an indeterminate period of incarceration of three to six years."

"The immediate object of defendant's crime was to purchase basic human necessities, including food and toothpaste. In consideration of the fact that he was a 53 year-old, unemployed homeless man, with longstanding medical and substance abuse issues, a reduction of his sentence to 3 to 6 years is appropriate," the decision states.

One associate justice, Peter Tom, was the sole dissenter to the panel's majority ruling, with the judge asserting that Mitchell deserved the longer sentence he received in November 2015 due to the homeless man's previous convictions.

He noted that "leading back to 1981" Mitchell had "at least 30 prior criminal convictions, including five felonies and 25 misdemeanors," adding that "most of these prior convictions are recent."

In addition, defendant's criminal history includes serious felony convictions for attempted rape in the first degree, attempted robbery in the first degree, attempted criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, and grand larceny in the third degree.

Among those convictions, Tom said, were "serious felony convictions for attempted rape in the first degree, attempted robbery in the first degree, attempted criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree and grand larceny in the third degree," as well as 21 separate misdemeanors "including a conviction just one month before his arrest in this case."

"Those 21 misdemeanors include 12 convictions for petit larceny, and also convictions for menacing, criminal possession of a weapon, attempted petit larceny, and drug possession," he said.

Tom also said Mitchell had been "actively engaged in a counterfeiting scheme in which he sought to obtain genuine currency as change for small dollar transactions."

"In other words, he was not merely using a single counterfeit bill to purchase 'human necessities' as the majority characterizes it. Rather, it appears he was part of a counterfeiting scheme to change counterfeit bills for real currency," Tom said.

"Since this was defendant's sixth felony conviction, he could have received sentence of 15 to life had he been adjudicated a persistent felony offender," Tom said. "This is not the type of case where we should exercise our discretionary power to reduce a sentence that was proper and fair."