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What to do if You Are Caught With a Fake ID

False documents of identity, or fake IDs, have been around as long as the real thing. Getting the right identity enables you to receive any number of rights, including alcohol, to cash a check and rent an apartment. Creating a fake ID is also easier today than ever with the widespread use of photo editing software and high-quality printing. 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. Most states have fake ID laws, although it is different from state to state with how the offense is classified and punished.

What is a “Fake”?

Any type of identification that is copied, changed, or otherwise intended to create a person’s false identity is a false or fake ID. For example, by taking a photo of yourself and printing a license for imitation state driver on your desktop, you might create a fake ID. Because a government agency may grant a state license, the ID is fake rather than a valid ID. On the other hand, if you steal the legitimate driver’s license from someone else and try to use it as your own, you can also have a fake ID.

Are there laws against Fake IDs?

Fake ID law covers a wide range of practices. These laws prohibit anyone from making or selling false documents, altering legitimate documents, purchasing them, using them, or possessing them. Possession offences are perhaps the most common, because even if you never want to use it to try, for example, to buy cigarettes illegally, you can be charged with a fake ID crime.

What is the actual crime?

Many, if not most, fake ID crimes involve people under the age of 21 or 18 trying to get alcohol or cigarettes using a fake ID. Owning or using false identification is a felony or misdemeanor (depending on your state) on its own, and if you use the ID to do something illegal, you can face additional charges and penalties for illegal activity. For example, if you use the ID to buy alcohol and you are under 21, in addition to the fake ID fee, you may also be charged with being a minor in alcohol possession.

Possible Penalties:

Because there are a wide range of offenses that can occur if you are holding, making, or using a fake ID, a wide range of possible penalties are also involved. The crime is prosecuted as an offense of misdemeanor in most cases where a person uses a fake ID. Fake IDs, however, can also result in felony charges depending on the situation and jurisdiction, such as using a fake ID to buy a firearm or possessing a fraudulent driver’s license. In some states it is a felony offense to hold any fake government documents.

  • Jail – Although highly unlikely for those using Fake IDs just to purchase some liquor for a night out, you may have to spend time in prison if you are convicted of a false ID crime. Although many state laws permit a prison sentence, a majority of the time they are not used as punishments for fake ID crimes, particularly for crimes of misdemeanor and first-time offenders. A misdemeanor fake ID offense will result in a possible sentence of up to one year in jail, although less time is typical, such as 90 days. A felony fake ID crime can result in incarceration for one year or more, and sometimes for as long as 10 years. Felony Fake ID crimes are usually classified for illegal immigration, sex offenders, or homeland security issues.

  • Fines – Fines are a much more common punishment for fake ID offenses, but they vary significantly in specific amounts. A first-time fake ID criminal may face a fine of up to $1,000 or more, but in misdemeanor offences, smaller fines of $500 or less are more common. Felonies, like the examples mentioned above, can result in fines of up to $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.

For first time offenders, if you are caught, many college town courts are familiar and regularly handle Fake ID cases. First time offenses will often result in required community service hours, minimal fines, and depending on the severity, probation for varying periods of time.

If you are a college student, also keep in mind that many universities receive daily police blotter reports, which means your name being booked will show up on the desk of your Dean’s office. University policies differ across the United States, but the best route is to always be honest. If you are caught with a Fake, do not tell a police officer or government official that it is real, no matter how good it looks. Give it up, pay your fee to the state, and save up for a new one!

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