Fake IDs and Criminal Consequences

Fake IDs were ever-present on campus when I was an undergraduate. There were several varieties: a “novelty” driver’s license obtained from a private vendor, a doctored version of the underage person’s real driver’s license, a duplicate driver’s license from an older relative, friend or acquaintance who resembled the underage person, or, the gold standard: a DMV-issued driver’s license with the underage person’s picture but an older person’s name, address, and birthdate. These days, on-line vendors hawk fake IDs, and facial recognition software makes it nearly impossible to obtain the gold standard fake ID from DMV. Otherwise, not all that much has changed in the collegiate fake-id market.

Often an underage person’s use of fraudulent identification leads to charges that are purely alcohol-related, such as the unlawful purchase or consumption of alcohol by an underage person. But other criminal charges may stem directly from the use of the fake ID.

G.S. 18B-302(e) makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor to use fraudulent identification to do any of the following:

(1) enter or attempt to enter a place where alcoholic beverages are sold or consumed,

(2) obtain or attempt to obtain alcoholic beverages, or

(3) to obtain or attempt to obtain permission to purchase alcoholic beverages.

A conviction under G.S. 18B-302(e) triggers a mandatory one-year revocation of the person’s driver’s license.

In addition, G.S. 20-30(3) makes it a Class 2 misdemeanor to display or represent as one’s own a driver’s license not issued to the person displaying it. DMV may suspend a person’s driver’s license for up to one year for conviction of this offense. G.S. 20-16(a)(6); 20-19(c).

A person who provides fraudulent identification for another person’s use also could face criminal charges. A person who allows someone else to use a driver’s license or other identification that was issued or given to that person violates G.S. 18B-302(f) if the person who is allowed to use the license or identification violates or attempts to violate the law barring the purchase, possession or consumption of alcohol by someone under 21 years of age. A violation of G.S. 18B-302(f) is a Class 1 misdemeanor that also triggers a mandatory revocation of the offender’s driver’s license for one year.

And G.S. 20-30(2) makes it a Class 2 misdemeanor to counterfeit, sell, lend to, or knowingly permit the use of a driver’s license by a person not entitled to its use. DMV may suspend a person’s license for up to one year for conviction of this offense.

Vendors face more serious consequences.The sale of a simulated driver’s license is a Class I felony.  G.S. 20-30(7).  One advocate for stricter driver’s license requirements opined earlier this year that the proliferation of counterfeit driver’s licenses from China created concerns that eclipsed underage drinking, arguing that their issuance threatened the United States’ security infrastructure.

Not identity theft. An underage person’s use of another person’s driver’s license to gain admission to a bar or club or to procure alcohol does not appear to satisfy the elements for identity theft under G.S. 14-113.20. To commit identity theft, a person must obtain, possess, or use another person’s identifying information to make financial transactions, to avoid legal consequences, or to “obtain anything of value, benefit or advantage.” While one could argue that an underage person using another’s identification obtains the “benefit” of access to certain establishments and to alcoholic beverages, such access differs markedly from the sort of financial, material, or legal benefit generally sought in connection with the improper use of another’s identity. Thus, it seems unlikely to have been the sort of benefit or advantage envisioned by the legislature when it added this language to the identity theft statute in 2002.

5 thoughts on “Fake IDs and Criminal Consequences”

  1. Could there be a legal argument, though, that using the fake I.D. allows the underage user to “avoid legal consequences” related to underage consumption? I’ve never heard of anyone making that argument, just curious.

    I see most identity theft charges as they relate to a false I.D. being used in terms of either another criminal charge, such as financial related frauds, or during the commission of a traffic violation and using someone else’s information to avoid the citation.

    • Christopher: You make a good point. The underage person’s use of another’s ID to obtain alcohol can be said to help the underage person avoid the legal bar that otherwise would apply to his or her possession of alcohol. I’m doubtful that avoiding such a legal bar is quite what the legislature meant by avoiding “legal consequences.” And I’d rely on the reasons cited above in connection with the benefit clause to say that here, as well, the legislature did not have these types of uses in mind when it referred to legal consequences.

      If the underage person were to present the fake ID to law enforcement officers who suspected the person of underage drinking, I’m far less certain that such conduct would fall outside of the identity theft statute.

      Interestingly, in another provision of Chapter 14 where the person’s possession of a fake ID might be interpreted to violate both Chapter 20 and Chapter 14, the General Assembly carved out an exception for the Chapter 20-30 types of possessions. See G.S. 14-100.1(a) (providing that “[e]xcept as otherwise made unlawful by G.S. 20-30, it shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly possess or manufacture a false or fraudulent form of identification as defined in this section for the purpose of deception, fraud, or other criminal conduct.”)

      • That’s kind of what I was thinking, too. I have never heard of anyone even ATTEMPTING to charge identity theft based on the underage person possessing or using an I.D. to buy alcohol, but the wording of the statute, even though not the intent perhaps, seems to allow that loophole.

        I have only rarely seen this charge applied in connection with a fake I.D. at all, actually, because a lot of the fake I.D.s I have encountered aren’t real people, it’s a made up name, DOB, and other details, and so they aren’t actually “stealing” anyone’s identity, rather creating a new one.

  2. I don’t like that the law links the use of a fake ID to loss of driving privileges. The only thing that should result in DL suspension is some sort of driving offense, like driving while intoxicated or other license surcharge issues. Unless there is a legitimate identity theft taking place, this is just another example of the over-criminalization of conduct in America.


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