Fake IDs in New York – Just Don’t!

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We’ve had a number of cases, recently, involving college students arrested with fake driver’s licenses. This isn’t really surprising in Saratoga Springs. There’s an ‘attractive nuisance’ here in the form of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, a music venue that sells alcoholic beverages.

It is surprising that these students clearly had no idea what they were getting themselves into when they obtained – and then tried to use – the licenses.

For one thing, it’s a crime to buy a fake ID in New York. Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 392-a prohibits buying or selling a false, fraudulent or stolen license, or identification card. A first offense is a misdemeanor. A second, within five years, is a felony.

Get caught using a fake ID to buy alcohol, and you’ll face vehicle and traffic – or even criminal – charges. You can expect administrative sanctions, as well, as we’ll discuss below.

At the very least you’ll be charged with violating Section 509(6) of New York’s Vehicle and Traffic Law. This section makes it illegal (but not ‘criminal’) to “possess or use any forged, fictitious or illegally obtained license, or use any license belonging to another person.” You can be fined up to $300 (plus a $93 surcharge) and the law would allow the judge to sentence you to 15 days in the county jail as well.

But that isn’t all you could be charged with. If you have a fake license on you – and you know it’s fake – and you have it on you because you intend to ‘deceive’ someone (a bartender, for instance), you’ve committed the misdemeanor of Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Third Degree (Penal Law Section 170.20).

That’s because a fake license is a ‘forged instrument’, as far as the Penal Law and the courts are concerned. Penal Law Section 170.00(7) defines a ‘forged instrument’ as a “written instrument which has been falsely made, completed or altered.” Case law, in turn, has determined that a driver’s license is a ‘written instrument.’ Take a look at People v. Campisi, a venerable opinion by the Hon. Vito J. Titone, who later served on New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.

A driver’s license isn’t just a ‘written instrument’, though. It’s a ‘written instrument officially issued or created by a public office, public servant or governmental instrumentality’, as defined by Penal Law Section 170.10. If you commit Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Third Degree and the forged instrument you possess is one of those defined under Penal Law Section 170.10, you’ve violated Section 170.25 of the Penal Law, and committed Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree, a felony. This was the charge faced by the defendant in Campisi.

And regardless of the outcome, you can expect to get The Letter. This will come from an investigator with the Division of Field Investigation of the Department of Motor Vehicles. It will ‘offer’ you a 90 day suspension of your driving privileges, and will give you a number to call if you have any questions. If you’re like most people, one of your questions will be “what will happen to me if I don’t accept the 90 day suspension?” The answer: a one year revocation!

DMV can make this threat, because the law gives it broad discretion in punishing license-related misbehavior. Section 510(3)(a) of the Vehicle and Traffic Law allows DMV to suspend or revoke a driver’s license for any violation of the Vehicle and Traffic Law.

Note that the statute refers to a ‘violation’ of the law, not a ‘conviction’. Section 510(7) explicitly states that “a court conviction shall not be necessary to sustain a revocation or suspension. Revocation or suspension hereunder shall be deemed an administrative act . . .” In other words, even if you talk the prosecutor into dropping the charge, you’re going to get hammered by DMV.

The bottom line: If you see a Manitoba (or Nova Scotia or Nebraska) driver’s license for sale in a shop window or on the web, don’t buy it.