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California fake ID laws make it a crime to possess or display a fake ID if the person intends to use that fake ID to commit a forgery.

The penalties for possessing a fake ID in California usually involve jail time, a fine, or both. 

If you were caught with a fake ID, an experienced and compassionate criminal defense lawyer can help you defend your rights. 

Please contact or call (619) 439-0981 to reach the San Diego defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC today to schedule a confidential consultation.

What Is a Fake ID Under California Fake ID Laws?

Two initial questions arise under California fake ID laws. First, is the document an identification document? Second, is the document fake?

Is the Document an ID?

The California fake ID laws apply only to certain types of identifying documents. These documents include state-issued driver’s licenses and government-issued identification cards. 

Government-issued identification cards can include documents like, for example:

  • Social security cards,
  • Military identification cards, 
  • State and federal government employee identification cards, and
  • U.S. passports. 

Other documents issued by a government agency may also qualify as an identifying document. 

Is the ID Fake?

A fake ID is a driver’s license or a government-issued identification card that has been:

  • Altered,
  • Falsified,
  • Forged,
  • Duplicated,
  • Reproduced, or
  • Counterfeited. 

For purposes of California fake ID laws, altering a document means to add to, erase, or change a part of the document. 

For example, a person alters a driver’s license by changing the person’s date of birth to make them over 21 years old. 

The fake ID laws would also apply when a person makes an unauthorized version or copy of a driver’s license. 

What Is a Crime Under California Fake ID Laws?

California fake ID laws prohibit two types of conduct: making a fake ID and possessing or displaying a fake ID. 

The person must also have made or possessed the fake ID with the intent to use that ID in committing a forgery. 

What Does It Mean to Possess a Fake ID?

Possession of a fake ID can include physically holding or touching the ID. However, physically holding the ID is not always possession under California fake ID laws. 

Instead, possession means that the person had the right to control or had actual control over the ID. 

For example, a person carrying a friend’s fake ID is not necessarily in possession of that ID. This is because the person does not have the right to control the ID simply because they are physically holding it. The right to control the ID remains with the friend, who is the owner of the ID. 

What Is Intent to Commit a Forgery?

Intent to commit a forgery is a more complicated way of saying that the person made or used the ID for the purpose of tricking someone else. Examples of using a fake ID to deceive another person might include: 

  • A person under 21 using the ID to buy alcohol or cigarettes;
  • Using an ID to apply for someone else’s military or social security benefits; or 
  • Opening a credit card or cashing a check in someone else’s name. 

Note that it is not enough that a person is caught with a fake ID. The person must possess the fake ID intending to deceive someone else. 

Though the person must intend to use the fake ID to commit a forgery, their attempt to do so need not be successful. The crime occurs when the person tries to trick another, whether the other person is actually tricked.

What Is the Penalty If I Am Caught with a Fake ID?

Possession of a fake ID is a “wobbler” offense under California fake ID laws. If you are caught with a fake ID, you may be charged with either a felony or a misdemeanor. 

The prosecutor for the state may decide whether to bring a felony or a misdemeanor charge. In making this decision, the prosecutor will consider: 

  • The facts of the specific case;
  • The nature and severity of the particular offense; and
  • The accused’s prior criminal history, if any. 

Whether the crime is charged as a felony or a misdemeanor affects the penalties imposed. 

What Is the Misdemeanor Fake ID Penalty?

A misdemeanor conviction carries the following penalties: 

  • Summary probation; 
  • Up to one year in jail; and/or
  • A fine up to $1,000. 

Summary probation is an alternative to serving all or part of a jail sentence and lasts one to three years. With summary probation, you do not need to report to a probation officer. 

What Is the Felony Fake ID Penalty?

Felony fake ID convictions carry more severe penalties, which can include:

  • Formal probation; 
  • Sixteen months, two years, or three years in prison; and/or
  • A fine up to $10,000. 

Felony probation is an alternative to prison and lasts between three and five years. Felony probation does require that you report to a probation officer. 

Other penalties can include suspension of your driver’s license and court-ordered community service. 

What Defenses Can I Use If I Am Caught with a Fake ID?

You may defend against a fake ID charge under several theories. These theories include: 

  • Lack of knowledge. You did not know that the ID was fake. 
  • Lack of intent. You did not intend to use the fake ID to commit a forgery (i.e., deceive or trick another person).
  • Lack of possession. You did not have the fake ID in your possession.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can discuss the defense strategies available in your case. 

Were You Caught with a Fake ID? Contact the Criminal Defense Attorneys at Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC

Possession of a fake ID is not a charge to take lightly. If you were caught with a fake ID, the penalty in California could mean loss of your freedom, hefty fines, or both.

Working with a skilled and knowledgeable defense attorney gives you the best chance of protecting your rights. 

At the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, our seasoned criminal defense team has tried over 100 criminal cases.

We are dedicated to providing our clients with compassionate, vigorous representation. Schedule a free consultation online to discuss your fake ID case with our legal team.

Author Photo

Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.

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