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In Person of Interest S02E09 "C.O.D.", a cab driver is paid for a getaway. The perp pays him $500 in cash, tearing the bills in half and promising to hand over the rest upon services rendered. Is this actually a known real-world practice, or is it an example of artistic license?

"Paid in half"

To my understanding, a dollar bill is considered legal tender in the US if at least half of the bill remains intact; so does this type of "transaction" even make sense, seeing as the party with more than 50% of the bill could just redeem it at a bank?

  • I agree with @Paulie_D 's answer, but also I think it could still work in the real world because I'm not sure that many people actually know they can exchange torn dollar bills at the bank – Nathaniel Brown Nov 26 '16 at 19:59
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It's probably mostly artistic / dramatic licence.

From Reference.com

As of September 2014, torn dollar bills can be exchanged at any bank as long as more than one-half of the bill is still intact. If this is not the case, then the bill must be examined by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing

It is necessary to note a bill's approximate worth when sending it to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The bureau also requires a letter explaining how it was damaged. The damaged bill should be left in its original container, such as a purse or a box, to prevent further damage to the bill and help the investigator make a decision.


So would it be effective in real life? Probably not assuming the driver wanted to go through the hassle of going through the full procedure to claim the value but since this is payment for activity in an illegal event...he might just decide to go with the flow.


Note though that actually tearing a bill on half is illegal under Title 18, Section 333 of the United States Code.

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.

  • Yes, although the enforceability of that particular law seems dubious at best, at least when it comes to recognizing intent to damage the bill. After all, accidents can happen (broken vending machines, carelessness, etc.) I'm inclined to go with artistic license too, however. – emdash Nov 26 '16 at 19:50
  • I read somewhere once (ah, that most fecund authority!) that the rule was: 3/5 or more of a bill has full value, 2/5 to 3/5 is worth half, less than 2/5 is nothing. Was that ever accurate? – Anton Sherwood Nov 26 '16 at 23:15
  • @AntonSherwood no. More than half is valid. Less has to be examined closely. – Tim Nov 27 '16 at 0:58
  • @Anton Sherwood, it seems that what you read somewhere once may apply to Canadian currency, but not American. money.stackexchange.com/a/34019/1645 – dgw Feb 21 '17 at 12:18

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