Using a fake ID is a time-honored method of getting around age restrictions for young people who want to buy alcohol or get into a bar. While people younger than the legal drinking age use fake IDs every day without significant consequences, it's possible that doing so will lead to criminal charges. In some situations the youngster can even be charged with identity theft.
Someone who uses another person's identifying information to fraudulently or illegally obtain some kind of benefit commits the crime of identity theft. For example, if you use someone else's Social Security number, contact information, and personal details to open a new credit card, you commit identity theft.
Likewise, depending on the state in which you live, using a fake ID to get into a bar or buy alcohol can be identity theft or a related crime.
For example, someone in the state of Rhode Island commits the crime of identity theft, known as identity fraud in that state, by knowingly possessing a false or stolen identification document. (Rhode Island General Laws § 11-49.1-3.) Identity fraud is a felony offense in Rhode Island, with a maximum possible penalty of three to 10 years in prison, depending on the circumstances.
Even though all states have laws that criminalize identity theft, including laws that specifically address using false identification or false documents, some states have made specific exceptions to these laws when it comes to using a fake ID.
For example, in West Virginia it's a felony to use another person's identity with the intent to fraudulently represent oneself as the other person. If you are convicted of identity theft in West Virginia you face up to five years in prison. (West Virginia Code § 61-3-54.)
But the West Virginia law, like statutes in many other states, makes an exception in situations where someone uses another person's identification to misrepresent his or her age. Essentially, if you use a fake ID or use someone else's ID to get into a bar in West Virginia, you don't commit identity theft. However, using or possessing a fake ID is still illegal, and you can still face a fine, license suspension, and other penalties.
Even if you live in a state where you might be charged with identity theft when using a fake ID, that doesn't mean you will be. Prosecutors are allowed to choose when to charge someone with a crime. This is known as prosecutorial discretion. In many instances where, for example, a college student uses a fake ID to get into a bar, it's unlikely that that student will be arrested or charged with an identity theft crime.
If you use a fake ID to get into a bar or buy alcohol and have that ID confiscated, or are approached by police or criminal investigators about the ID, you shouldn't make any statements until you have contacted a criminal defense attorney in your area. Further, because the laws that apply in this type of situation differ so significantly between states, you should seek advice regarding the potential consequences of having used the fake ID. Consulting a local criminal defense lawyer for advice is the way to protect your rights and understand the potential consequences.