Despite the fact that high school and college students do it all the time, the crime of using a false ID is fairly serious. Whether you are using a fake ID to get into a concert, buy alcohol, or otherwise misrepresent your age or identity, you could be asking for major criminal penalties.

It is impossible for the police to monitor every bar and liquor store in the country, so the vast majority of fake ID uses go undetected and unpunished. However, this makes things all the more difficult for the ones who are caught.

What Is the Punishment for Using a Fake ID?

Assuming that the ID in question is not for falsifying your citizenship (which is much more serious and would delve into the realm of illegal aliens/terrorism), the law generally punishes the conduct of misrepresenting your identity in two ways: first is the use of the fake identification (or real identification that does not belong to you) to falsely identify yourself, and the second is the tampering or falsification of an actual identification card. 

  • Using a Fake ID: You can be prosecuted for a number of different crimes for using fake identification. Since these laws are regulated by state, every state will have its own punishments. These penalties can run the gamut from being a simple $500 misdemeanor in some states, to being considered criminal impersonation or forgery, both felonies punishable by up to a year and a half in state prison.  If the ID is used to purchase a firearm, its a felony in every state, and can get you up to 7 years in prison.
  • Modifying a Real ID: If you have also actually tampered with a real identification card, you could be charged with another crime like tampering with a public record, or altering government documents. This punishes the act of altering or changing an officially issued piece of documentation like a driver's license, and is an even more serious felony in most states.  In New York, for example, it is punishable by up to 7 years in prison. 

It should also be noted that, even without using any kind of false ID, the mere act of attempting to purchase alcohol is a crime if you are a minor (generally the lowest class of misdemeanor, meaning a fine), and that all of the crimes listed above will also result in the suspension of a drivers license, from anywhere between 90 to 180 days.

Although this may seem like a bit of an oxymoron, if you are over 18 you are deemed an adult for punishment purposes (even though you are not an adult for alcoholic purposes). Therefore you can get the full range of punishment (i.e. years in prison), whereas minors (under 18) will generally only get community service and probation. 

Can the Punishments Increase?

They can and will.  The judge and/or prosecutor have a lot of discretion as to what to charge you with, so if you arrested for using a fake ID multiple times, they can really throw the book at you. Also, with the current abundance of identify theft rings, if you are using someone else's real ID there are many new (and very harsh) laws that you can be prosecuted under. On the other hand, if someone gave you their legitimate ID to use, then that person too can be arrested for a class 1 misdemeanor, and face fines and up to a year in jail. 

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Finally, there are laws in several states that also allow civil reparations from bars or liquor stores against minors who try to use a fake ID. Alaska, for example, allows an establishment to confiscate the ID and sue the minor for $1,000 per attempt. This is in addition to being able to detain you for arrest, and whatever other penalities follow from that.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Using a fake ID may seem like a rite of passage for many, and the crime's abundance may make it seem victim-less. But for the people who are caught, the punishments can be severe and costly. A conviction can permanently affect your record and your chances of getting into college or finding a good job. That's why you need an experienced criminal defense attorney who can tell you how to minimize your sentence, explain your rights, and possibly get the conviction expunged from your record.