Just as different facts and evidence can result in different arrests, charges and outcomes, different courts can analyze similarly charged cases and reach different conclusions as to legal sufficiency. In the realm of fake identification cases in New York, this could not be more accurate. Very briefly, you are guilty of Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Third Degree, New York Penal Law 170.20, if you know that the instrument you possess is fake and fraudulent, it is fake and fraudulent and that you possess it with the intent to deceive another (review PL 170.20 for the actually legal language). The lowest of the Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument crimes, PL 170.20 is nonetheless a misdemeanor that is both punishable by as much as one year in jail and is not expunged from your criminal record upon conviction. That is correct. Having a fake ID or drivers license whether its to buy beer or something much more serious such as possessing a fraudulent passport, the crime is at minimum a misdemeanor and can be prosecuted as a felony Second Degree Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument.
An issue that often pops up in arrests for fake IDs, drivers licenses and passports, is how the prosecution can prove each of these elements beyond a reasonable doubt from the knowledge to the intent to deceive another person where the acts or statements by themselves do not reflect this knowledge or intent. In a recent blog entry I addressed People v. Hightower where the court concluded that by the nature of the particular fake military ID that had the defendant’s picture and depicted a computer chip instead of an actual one, the People satisfied their burden in establishing the defendant’s knowledge and intent to deceive another. Why else would one have such an identification? Fortunately, however, not all “hope” is lost. A similar case and decision ended up on the other side of the issue in finding that a fake international drivers license by itself did not satisfy the legally sufficient threshold.