False identification documents, or fake IDs, have probably been around as long as the real thing. Having the proper identification allows you any number of privileges, from obtaining alcohol, to cashing a check and renting an apartment. With the widespread use of photo editing software and high-quality printing, creating a fake ID is easier today than it ever has been. But it is also a crime that states have been punishing in an increasingly severe manner, with many states punishing people with Fake IDs as felons. All states have fake ID laws, though how the crime is categorized and punished differs from state to state.
What is a Fake ID?
A false or fake ID is any form of identification that is forged, altered, or otherwise purports to establish the false identity of a person. For example, you could create a fake ID by taking a photo of yourself and printing an imitation state driver's license on your computer. Because the state license must be issued by a government agency, your ID is fraudulent and not a legal ID. On the other hand, you can also have a fake ID if you steal someone else's legitimate driver's license and try to use it as your own.
Possession, Production, Alteration, Sale, and Use
Fake ID laws cover a wide range of activities. These laws prohibit anyone from making or selling false documents, altering legitimate documents, purchasing them, using them, or possessing them. Possession crimes are likely the most common, and you can be charged with a fake ID crime even if you never try to use it to try, for example, to illegally buy cigarettes.
States have a variety of laws that punish false ID crimes, and different actions can result in different crimes. For example, a state may make it illegal to use any ID in an attempt to establish a false identity, while it may also make it illegal to falsely use a state-issued ID, such as a birth certificate or driver's license.
Real ID, Wrong Person
False identification laws also penalize people who use a real ID, even though that ID isn't their own. For example, a college student might borrow a friend's ID in order to get into a bar or buy alcohol. Using borrowed or stolen IDs is a false ID crime, though some states have specific laws that make using a borrowed ID a less severe crime than using, for example, a forged document.
Many, if not most, fake ID crimes involve people under the age of 21 or 18 who try to use a fake ID to obtain alcohol or cigarettes. The possession or use of false identification is a crime by itself, and if you use the ID to do something illegal, you can face additional charges and penalties for the illegal activity. If, for example, you use the ID to buy alcohol and you are under 21, you can also be charged with being a minor in possession of alcohol in addition to the fake ID charge.
For more information on minor in possession laws, see Minor in Possession of Alcohol. This article contains links to articles by state, with specific information on each state's laws and penalties.
State laws also require some establishments, such as those that sell alcohol, tobacco products, or firearms, to verify the age of a person by verifying the person's identification. It is the business's duty to ensure the ID presented is a valid one, and to ensure that it actually belongs to the person using it. If a retailer fails to properly inspect or verify an ID, it faces potential penalties from the state. These can include fines, license suspensions, and even license revocation. However, states typically allow retailers to avoid these penalties if the retailer uses reasonable methods to attempt to verify that the ID is valid.
Because there are a wide range of crimes that can result if you carry, make, or use a fake ID, there are also a wide range of possible penalties associated. In most situations where a person uses a fake ID, the crime is charged as a misdemeanor offense. However, false IDs can also result in felony charges depending on the situation and the state, such as if you use a fake ID to purchase a firearm or if you have a fake driver's license. In some states, possessing any forged government identification is a felony offense.
- Jail. If you're convicted of a false ID crime, you may have to spend time in jail. However, even though state laws may allow a jail sentence, they aren't always used as penalties in fake ID crimes, especially for misdemeanor crimes and first-time offenders. A misdemeanor fake ID crime can bring up to a year in jail as a possible sentence, though less time, such as 90 days, is common. A felony fake ID offense can result in a year or more of incarceration, and sometimes as much as 10 years.
- Fines. Fines are a much more common penalty for fake ID crimes, though the specific amounts vary significantly. A first-time fake ID offender may face a fine of up to $1,000 or more, but smaller fines of $500 or less are more common in misdemeanor offenses. Felony offenses can result in fines of as much as $100,000.
- Probation. Probation is also a common sentence for a fake ID conviction. When you're given a probation sentence a judge orders you to comply with specific conditions over a period of time, typically 12 months or more. Probation conditions include regularly reporting to a probation officer, notifying the officer if you intend to leave town, not associating with known criminals, maintaining employment, and paying all required fines, probation fees, and court costs. Failure to comply with these conditions can result in the court extending probation or imposing a jail sentence.
Talk to an Attorney
Getting caught with a fake ID can seem inconsequential and harmless, yet it's anything but. Even if you've never been convicted of a crime before, getting caught using a fake ID can result in serious penalties. If you're convicted of a felony offense the conviction will follow you for the rest of your life. Even a misdemeanor offense could lead to future employers believing you are untrustworthy, making it much harder for you to find a job.
It's in your best interests to speak to a local criminal defense lawyer as soon as you have a fake ID confiscated, are questioned by the police, or are charged with a fake ID crime. Only local attorneys can give you advice about your case because they not only know the applicable laws, but they also have experience with area prosecutors and judges. Talking to a qualified criminal defense attorney as soon as possible is the best way to protect your rights anytime you're facing a fake ID charge.