As long as the legal drinking age in Texas stays at 21, teenagers will probably continue to obtain fake IDs in order to get served alcohol at bars and nightclubs. Indeed, many college and high school students view a fake ID as a “right of passage” and a victimless crime. But the reality is quite different. Getting caught trying to pass off a fake ID can lead to criminal charges, as well as potential disciplinary from a student’s school. In addition, any business that serves a student with a fake ID, even unwittingly, may face serious legal consequences.
What Constitutes a Fake ID in Texas?
A fake ID is basically any document you present as identification that contains false information or was not personally issued to you by a government agency. Some teenagers manufacture fake IDs by altering their own documents–e.g., changing the year in the date-of-birth on their driver’s license. In other cases, they may present a valid ID issued to someone else as their own. And then there’s simply buying forged documents from an illegal vendor. Regardless of how one obtains a fake ID, however, it is against the law.
More precisely, it is a Class A misdemeanor in Texas to possess or display a “driver’s license or certificate that the person knows is fictitious or has been altered.” This also covers situations where someone misrepresents someone else’s driver’s license as their own. If convicted, a Class A misdemeanor carries a maximum possible sentence of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
In addition to these offenses, it is also a Class A misdemeanor to submit a false application in order to obtain valid government identification. In other words, if you lie on an application to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles to obtain a driver’s license stating you are over 21–when you are not–you can be charged with a crime even if you never actually obtain or use the ID.
There is also a separate offense in the Texas Transportation Code for minors who possess any document “that is deceptively similar to a driver’s license or a personal identification certificate” and misrepresents their age as 21 or older. There is an exception for documents that contain a clear statement that it is “NOT A GOVERNMENT DOCUMENT.” But absent such a disclaimer, a police officer may confiscate any document if a “reasonable person would assume” that it is government-issued identification.
A violation of this particular law is classified as a Class C misdemeanor, which unlike a Class A misdemeanor does not carry the possibility of jail time. However, if convicted a person may still be fined as much as $500 and ordered to perform 8 hours of community service. And if a person is convicted a second time of the same offense, the number of community service hours increases to 12.
It is also possible for Texas prosecutors to charge someone who alters an otherwise valid driver’s license or government-issued identification card with the crime of “tampering with a government record.” Unlike the offenses discussed above, tampering in this manner is classified as a third-degree felony in Texas. This means that if you are tried and convicted, you can be sent to prison for up to 10 years and fined as much as $10,000.
Finally, even if you managed to escape criminal prosecution with nothing more than a fine, keep in mind that if you are a college student, your institution may initiate separate disciplinary proceedings against you for violating their own drinking policies.
Who Else Can Get in Trouble If I Use Fake Personal Identification in Texas?
Even if you don’t care about the potential risks to you of using a fake ID, you should consider who else you are putting in legal jeopardy. Using a fake ID is far from a victimless crime. To the contrary, it can lead to significant legal problems for the people who give you the ID, as well as those who accept it.
Let’s start with the bar or club you use the fake ID to obtain liquor from. It is against the law to sell alcohol to anyone under 21, period. A business that breaks the law can lose their liquor license, and individual employees may face civil or criminal sanctions. And the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) will not let a bar or restaurant off the hook just because they thought that fake ID you showed them looked convincing. In fact, the TABC itself regularly conducts “undercover operations” where they send underage agents into bars to test their ability to spot and reject fake IDs.
And then there’s the person who “lends” you their ID so you can claim to be over 21. This is just as much a crime as actually using someone else’s ID. And the law treats the lender the same as the user–by charging them with a Class A misdemeanor.
So if you are charged with using a fake ID in Texas, you need to take the matter seriously. Your first step should be to contact a qualified Collin County criminal defense attorney. Call Rosenthal & Wadas at 972-369-0577.