Having a Fake Driver's License or Identification Card
Penal Code 470b PC

California Penal Code 470b PC makes it a crime to either

  • display, or
  • possess,

any fake identification, with the intent to use that fake ID to commit a forgery.1

The technical legal definition of “fake ID” in California criminal law is any driver's license or other identification card issued by a governmental agency that has been

  • altered,
  • falsified,
  • forged,
  • duplicated,
  • reproduced, or
  • counterfeited.2

And “intent to use that fake ID to commit a forgery” means an intent to use the ID to commit fraud—that is, deceive another person, in order to cause loss or damage to a legal, financial, or property right.3

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Possessing a fake ID in order to buy beer illegally is one way to violate Penal Code 470b PC.

Examples

Here are some examples of people who might face charges for displaying or possessing a fake ID under Penal Code 470b PC:

  • A 19-year-old college student has a fake driver's license in her apartment that contains her photo, a false name, and a false birthdate; she plans to use it to buy alcohol.
  • An undocumented immigrant has a fake driver's license that he believes will help him avoid harassment by police or detection by authorities.
  • A man who is involved in a complicated identity theft scheme uses a number of fake government IDs to pass checks written in the names of people whose identities have been stolen.

Penalties

PC 470b displaying or possessing a fake ID is what is known as a California “wobbler.”

This means that it can be charged as either a California misdemeanor or a California felony, depending on the circumstances.4

The misdemeanor penalties for this crime are up to one (1) year in county jail, and/or a fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).5

The potential felony penalties are sixteen (16) months, two (2) years or three (3) years' imprisonment, and/or a fine of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000).6

Legal defenses

People who have no previous experience with the criminal justice system often find themselves charged under California's fake ID laws. California law takes this offense seriously, and it's a scary thing to have to face.

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It is important to understand what legal defenses may be available to you if you are charged with having a fake identification.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can help. S/he will know the most useful legal defenses to Penal Code 470b charges, including:

  • You didn't know that the driver's license or other ID was fraudulent or fake;
  • You didn't intend to use the fake ID to commit a forgery/fraud; and
  • You weren't actually the one who possessed the fake identification.

In order to help you better understand the California crime of possessing or displaying a fake ID, our California criminal defense attorneys will address the following:

1. The Legal Definition of Possessing or Displaying a Fake Identification in California

2. California Penal Code 470b Penalties

3. Legal Defenses to California Fake ID Charges

4. PC 470b and Related Offenses

4.1. PC 470a forging or counterfeiting an identification card
4.2. VC 13004 and 14610 unlawful acts involving ID cards or driver's licenses
4.3. PC 472 forgery of a public seal

If, after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

1. The Legal Definition of Possessing or Displaying a Fake Identification in California

The legal definition of the crime of displaying or possessing a fake ID consists of the following “elements of the crime”:

  1. You possessed, displayed, or caused or permitted to be displayed a driver's license or other government-issued identification card;
  2. The driver's license or other government-issued ID was altered, falsified, forged, duplicated, reproduced, or counterfeited;
  3. You knew that the license or ID was altered, falsified, forged, etc.; and
  4. When you possessed or displayed the identification document, you intended that that document would be used to commit forgery.7

These so-called “elements” are the essential facts that the prosecutor must prove in order for you to be guilty under 470b PC.

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California fake ID charges frequently stem from situations involving fake driver's licenses.

Below we will flesh out some of the terms in this legal definition.

Possessing or displaying

The basic activities covered by California fake ID law, Penal Code 470b PC, are

  1. possessing, and
  2. displaying (or causing to be displayed)

a fake government-issued ID.8

What does it mean to actually “possess” something?

For starters, it doesn't necessarily mean that you were physically holding or touching it. You can “possess” a fake ID if you simply have control over it or the right to control it.9

Also, it is possible for more than one person to “possess” the same object.10

Example: Randy and Tina are a married couple. Based on evidence that the couple may be involved in an identity theft scheme, police obtain a search warrant to search their home.

Randy and Tina are away when the police arrive at their home, but their housekeeper lets the police in. While searching the home, the police find a large stash of fake driver's licenses and social security cards in a cabinet.

Even though Randy and Tina were not caught with the IDs in their physical possession, the fact that the IDs were in their home may be enough to establish that they controlled—and thus possessed—the IDs.

Therefore, Randy and Tina may both be charged with possessing fake IDs in California.

A driver's license or other government ID

By far the most common form of identification involved in fake ID charges is a driver's license issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

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Passports are another form of government ID that could lead to charges of possessing/displaying a fake ID.

However, you may be convicted under Penal Code 470b PC for possession or display of other forms of government-issued ID as well.11 These might include:

Example: Anna has several friends who are veterans. She notices that their military IDs get them lots of discounts at stores, museums, etc.

So Anna asks a friend who is a graphic designer to make and laminate a fake military ID card for her. She intends to use it to get all the same discounts.

Anna is guilty of possessing a fake ID under Penal Code 470b.

Altered, falsified, forged, duplicated, reproduced, or counterfeited

California fake ID laws apply to all of the following:

  • Real identification cards that have been altered to contain false information (like a fake birthdate or address);
  • Identification cards that are completely forged; and
  • Illegal copies or reproductions of real identification cards.12

Example: Scott and Lucy are two college students who would like to go to clubs that are for people over 21 only. So they both contact an acquaintance who is supposed to be able to make fake identification cards.

The acquaintance makes Scott a fake driver's license that contains his photo but a different name and birthdate.

Lucy is nervous about getting caught with a “fake ID,” though, and she asks the acquaintance to just alter her own driver's license to change the birthdate and make it appear as if she is over 21.

Both Scott and Lucy then use their licenses to get into clubs.

Both of them are guilty of possessing and displaying a fake ID under Penal Code 470b.

Knowledge that the identification was fake, forged, or altered

You are only guilty of displaying/possessing a fake identification if you knew that the identification card was forged, altered, counterfeited, etc.13

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You are only guilty under PC 470b if you knew the ID was counterfeit or altered.

So if—for whatever reason—you did not realize that what you had in your possession was a fake ID, you are not guilty under California Penal Code 470b.

Example: Raul has just moved to Los Angeles from Guatemala. His cousin Miguel, who has lived in the United States for years, is helping him get settled.

Miguel presents Raul with a California government ID card that he tells Raul to use to apply for jobs, obtain government services, etc.

Raul does what Miguel tells him, believing that the ID card is legitimate. In fact, though, it is counterfeit.

If Raul is charged with possessing and displaying a fake identification, he may be able to avoid a conviction by arguing that he did not realize the card was fake.

Intent to use the document to commit forgery

Perhaps most importantly, you are only guilty of displaying or possessing a fake ID if you intended to use the fake ID to commit a “forgery.”14

In this context, committing a forgery means:

  1. Using the ID to deceive another person,
  2. In order to cause a loss of, or damage to, a legal, financial or property right.15

Ways in which a person could commit a forgery with a fake ID might include:

  • A person under 18 using the ID to purchase cigarettes;
  • A person under 21 using the ID to purchase alcohol;
  • Using the ID to cash a check in another person's name (i.e., to commit check fraud);
  • Using the ID to use a credit card in someone else's name (i.e., to commit credit card fraud);
  • An undocumented alien using the ID to apply for jobs or get government benefits; and/or
  • A person with a felony criminal history using the ID to purchase a gun, in the hopes of avoiding “ felon with a firearm” charges.
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Intent to commit a forgery can include an intent to use a fake ID to get into a "21 and over" bar or club.

BUT if you possess a fake ID without any intent to use it for that sort of purpose, then you are not guilty under Penal Code 470b PC—even if you knew the ID was fake.

Example: Chelsea is a high school student trying to make friends with the “in crowd.” She joins those girls when they go to a “bad” part of town to purchase fake driver's licenses.

Chelsea buys a fake license too, because she wants the other girls to think she's “cool.” She then takes it home and buries it in the bottom of her dresser. She has no plans to use it, and she never does.

If Chelsea is arrested and charged with possessing a fake ID, she may be able to beat the charges by arguing that she did not intend to use the license to commit a forgery.

2. California Penal Code 470b Penalties

Penal Code 470b fake identification is what is known as a “wobbler.” This means that it is a crime that may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, at the prosecutor's discretion.16

In making this decision, the prosecutor will typically consider both:

  • The exact nature of the allegations, and
  • The defendant's criminal history.

Displaying/possessing a fake ID as a misdemeanor carries the following potential penalties:

And felony fake ID (Penal Code 470b) charges carry the following potential penalties:

  • Felony (formal) probation;
  • Sixteen (16) months, two (2) years or three (3) years in county jail; and/or
  • A fine of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000).18
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A minor who possesses or uses a fake ID to buy cigarettes would be tried in California's juvenile court system.

If the defendant is a minor—as many defendants in fake ID cases are—then the case will be tried in California's juvenile court system.

3. Legal Defenses to California Fake ID Charges

If you, your child, or another loved one is charged with possessing or displaying a fake identification in California, you may well be able to fight the charges using one of several common legal defenses to this crime.

These include:

You did not know the ID was fake or altered

As we mention above, you are not guilty under California Penal Code 470b unless you knew that the relevant government ID was fake or had been altered.19

And the prosecutor needs to be able to prove that you had this knowledge, beyond a reasonable doubt.

According to Santa Clarita criminal defense attorney John Murray20:

“Now, if any of the information on the ID is not your own (e.g., the name, birthdate, or address are incorrect), you are unlikely to be able to argue the legal defense of lack of knowledge. But let's say you have a counterfeit or forged ID in your possession that contains accurate information about you. Depending on the circumstances under which you received it, it is entirely plausible that you did not know the ID was fake.”

This legal defense—lack of knowledge that the ID was fake—is related to the common legal defense of “mistake of fact.”

You did not intend to use the ID to commit a forgery

Under Penal Code 470b PC, you can be guilty of possessing or displaying a fake ID even if you never actually used the ID—as long as the prosecutor can prove that you intended to use it for illicit purposes.21

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You are only guilty of possessing or displaying a fake ID if you intended to use the ID to commit a forgery.

But this aspect of the law cuts both ways. If the authorities decide to charge you under California's fake ID law without evidence that you actually used the identification to commit a forgery, then they need to prove that that you had the intent to use it this way. And a person's subjective intent can be difficult to prove.

This is why the legal defense of lack of intent can be powerful in cases like this one.

You did not actually possess the fake ID

It is not uncommon for people in California to be charged with possessing a false identification because of a fake ID that actually belonged to a roommate, family member, etc.

Just because a fake ID was in your home or car does not mean that you possessed it. You may not have known of its existence, or it may not have been yours and you may not have had the right to control it.

4. PC 470b and Related Offenses

There are several related offenses in California law that someone charged with Penal Code 470b possessing a fake ID may want to know about.

These include:

4.1. PC 470a forging or counterfeiting an identification card

Penal Code 470a PC (forging or counterfeiting an ID) makes it a crime to alter, falsify, forge, duplicate, reproduce, or counterfeit any driver's license or other government-issued ID card—with the intent that it be used to commit a forgery.22

In other words, while Penal Code 470b punishes the person who possesses or uses a fake ID, Penal Code 470a punishes the person who actually makes the fake ID.

Like possessing/displaying a fake identification, the crime of forging or counterfeiting an ID is a wobbler (a crime that may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony).23

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People who actually produce or create fake IDs may be charged under Penal Code 470a PC.

The maximum misdemeanor sentence is one (1) year in county jail. The potential felony sentence is sixteen (16) months, two (2) years or three (3) years.24

4.2. VC 13004 and 14610 unlawful acts involving ID cards or driver's licenses

If you are charged with Penal Code 470b possessing or displaying a fake ID, you should be aware of the crimes of:

Vehicle Code 13004 makes it a crime to display or possess a fake, fraudulently altered, or fraudulently obtained government ID other than a driver's license.25 Vehicle Code 14610 covers the same territory, but for driver's licenses only.26

If you are charged with Penal Code 470b, you and your criminal defense attorney may want to do your best to get your charges reduced to one of these Vehicle Code offenses.27

This is because both VC 13004 and VC 14610 are misdemeanors—not wobblers—and carry a maximum sentence of only six (6) months in county jail.28

4.3. PC 472 forgery of a public seal

Finally, Penal Code 470b PC displaying/possessing a fake ID is related to the crime of forgery of a public seal under Penal Code 472 PC.

This law makes it a crime to possess and “willfully conceal” a counterfeit seal of a government entity, with the intent to use it to commit a fraud.29

If there is a forged or counterfeit government seal on the fake ID you are alleged to have possessed or displayed—then you could be charged with both PC 470b and PC 472.

Forgery of a public seal is also a wobbler in California law. It carries the same penalties as California forgery.30

Call us for help…

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For questions about the crime of Penal Code 470b display/possession of a fake ID in California, or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our California criminal defense attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

We have local criminal law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.

For more information on Nevada “fake identification” laws, please see our page on Nevada “fake identification” laws.

You may also find helpful information in our related articles on California Forgery Laws Penal Code 470 PC; California Identity Theft Laws Penal Code 530.5 PC; California's Criminal Fraud Laws; Legal Definition of a California “Wobbler”; Legal Definition of a California Misdemeanor; Legal Definition of a California Felony; Common Legal Defenses to California Crimes; A Guide to Search Warrants in California; California's Check Fraud Laws Penal Code 476; California Credit Card Fraud; California “Felon with a Firearm” Laws Penal Code 29800 PC; Misdemeanor (Summary) Probation in California; Felony (Formal) Probation in California; California's Juvenile Court System; Mistake of Fact as a Legal Defense in California Criminal Law; Penal Code 470a PC (Forging or Counterfeiting an ID); California Vehicle Code 13004 Unlawful Acts Involving Identification Cards; and Forgery of a Public Seal Under Penal Code 472 PC.

Legal References:


1 Penal Code 470b PC – Possession or display of fake identification card. (“Every person who displays or causes or permits to be displayed or has in his or her possession any driver's license or identification card of the type enumerated in Section 470a with the intent that the driver's license or identification card be used to facilitate the commission of any forgery, is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.”)

2 Same.

See also Penal Code 470a PC – Forgery/production of fake ID. (“Every person who alters, falsifies, forges, duplicates or in any manner reproduces or counterfeits any driver's license or identification card issued by a governmental agency with the intent that such driver's license or identification card be used to facilitate the commission of any forgery, is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.”)

3 Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (“CALCRIM”) 1921 – Possessing or Displaying False, Altered, or Counterfeit Driver's License (Pen. Code, § 470b). (“Someone intends to commit forgery if he or she intends to use a forged, counterfeit, altered, falsified, duplicated, or reproduced document to deceive another person in order to cause a loss of, or damage to, a legal, financial, or property right.”)

4 Penal Code 470b PC – Possession or display of fake identification card, endnote 1, above.

5 Same.

See also Penal Code 672 PC. (“Upon a conviction for any crime punishable by imprisonment in any jail or prison, in relation to which no fine is herein prescribed [such as displaying or possessing a fake driver's license or other identification], the court may impose a fine on the offender not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000) in cases of misdemeanors or ten thousand dollars ($10,000) in cases of felonies, in addition to the imprisonment prescribed.”)

6 Same.

See also Penal Code 1170(h) – Determinate sentencing. (“(h)(1) Except as provided in paragraph (3), a felony punishable pursuant to this subdivision where the term is not specified in the underlying offense shall be punishable by a term of imprisonment in a county jail for 16 months, or two or three years.”)

7 CALCRIM 1921 – Possessing or Displaying False, Altered, or Counterfeit Driver's License (Pen. Code, § 470b). (“To prove that the defendant is guilty of this crime, the People must prove that: 1. The defendant (possessed[,]/ [or] displayed[,]/ [or] caused [or permitted] to be displayed) a (driver's license/ [or] government-issued identification card); 2. The (driver's license/ [or] government-issued identification card) was (altered[,]/ [or] falsified[,]/ [or] forged[,]/ [or] duplicated[,]/ [or] reproduced[,]/ [or] counterfeited); 3. The defendant knew that the (driver's license/ [or] government-issued identification card) had been (altered[,]/ [or] falsified[,]/ [or] forged[,]/ [or] duplicated[,]/ [or] reproduced[,]/ [or] counterfeited); AND 4. When the defendant (possessed[,]/ [or] displayed[,]/ [or] caused [or permitted] to be displayed) the (driver's license/ [or] government-issued identification card), (he/she) intended that the document be used to commit forgery.”)

8 Same.

9 CALCRIM 1921 – Possessing or Displaying False, Altered, or Counterfeit Driver's License (Pen. Code, § 470b). (“[Two or more people may possess something at the same time.] [A person does not have to actually hold or touch something to possess it. It is enough if the person has (control over it/ [or] the right to control it), either personally or through another person.]”)

10 Same.

11 Penal Code 470b PC – Possession or display of fake identification card, endnote 1, above.

12 Same.

13 CALCRIM 1921 – Possessing or Displaying False, Altered, or Counterfeit Driver's License (Pen. Code, § 470b), endnote 7, above.

14 Same.

15 CALCRIM 1921 – Possessing or Displaying False, Altered, or Counterfeit Driver's License (Pen. Code, § 470b). (“Someone intends to commit forgery if he or she intends to use a forged, counterfeit, altered, falsified, duplicated, or reproduced document to deceive another person in order to cause a loss of, or damage to, a legal, financial, or property right. [For the purpose of this instruction, a person includes (a governmental agency/a corporation/a business/an association/the body politic).]”)

16 Penal Code 470b PC – Possession or display of fake identification card, endnote 1, above.

17 See endnote 5, above.

18 See endnote 6, above.

19 CALCRIM 1921 – Possessing or Displaying False, Altered, or Counterfeit Driver's License (Pen. Code, § 470b), endnote 7, above.

20 Santa Clarita criminal defense attorney John Murray has a stellar reputation for criminal and DUI defense throughout Los Angeles and Ventura counties. He works closely with his clients and carefully chosen private investigators to build the best defense in cases ranging from PC 470b fake IDs to gross vehicular manslaughter.

21 CALCRIM 1921 – Possessing or Displaying False, Altered, or Counterfeit Driver's License (Pen. Code, § 470b), endnote 7, above.

22 Penal Code 470a PC – Forgery/production of fake ID [compare to crime of possessing or displaying a fake ID], endnote 2, above.

23 Same.

24 Same.

25 Vehicle Code 13004 VC – Fraudulent identification [compare to crime of possessing or displaying a fake ID]. (“It is unlawful for any person: (a) To display or cause or permit to be displayed or have in his possession any canceled, fictitious, fraudulently altered, or fraudulently obtained identification card. (b) To lend his identification card to any other person or knowingly permit the use thereof by another. (c) To display or represent any identification card not issued to him as being his card. (d) To permit any unlawful use of an identification card issued to him. (e) To do any act forbidden or fail to perform any act required by this article. (f) To photograph, photostat, duplicate, or in any way reproduce any identification card or facsimile thereof in such a manner that it could be mistaken for a valid identification card, or to display or have in his possession any such photograph, photostat, duplicate, reproduction, or facsimile unless authorized by the provisions of this code. (g) To alter any identification card in any manner not authorized by this code.”)

26 Vehicle Code 14610 VC – Fraudulent driver's license [compare to crime of possessing or displaying a fake ID]. (“(a) It is unlawful for any person: (1) To display or cause or permit to be displayed or have in his possession any canceled, revoked, suspended, fictitious, fraudulently altered, or fraudulently obtained driver's license. (2) To lend his driver's license to any other person or knowingly permit the use thereof by another. (3) To display or represent any driver's license not issued to him as being his license. (4) To fail or refuse to surrender to the department upon its lawful demand any driver's license which has been suspended, revoked or canceled. (5) To permit any unlawful use of a driver's license issued to him. (6) To do any act forbidden or fail to perform any act required by this division. (7) To photograph, photostat, duplicate, or in any way reproduce any driver's license or facsimile thereof in such a manner that it could be mistaken for a valid license, or to display or have in his possession any such photograph, photostat, duplicate, reproduction, or facsimile unless authorized by the provisions of this code. (8) To alter any driver's license in any manner not authorized by this code. (b) For purposes of this section, "driver's license" includes a temporary permit to operate a motor vehicle.”)

27 See People v. Johnson (1997) 58 Cal.App.4th 484, 486-87. (“Here, however, appellant was charged with the crime of possession of a forged driver's license in violation of section 470b in that defendant possessed a driver's license and identification card of the "type enumerated in Penal Code section 470a with the intent that said document be used to facilitate the commission of a forgery." By so charging defendant, the People charged that defendant possessed a driver's license which had been altered, falsified, forged, duplicated or in any manner reproduced or counterfeited. Possession of either a fictitious or a fraudulently altered driver's license is a violation of Vehicle Code section 14610 as well as a violation of section 470b. Thus, the information necessarily charged defendant with a violation of both section 470b and Vehicle Code section 14610.”)

28 Vehicle Code 40000.11 VC – Punishment for VC 13004 and 14610 [compare to penalties for Penal Code 470 PC]. (“A violation of any of the following provisions is a misdemeanor, and not an infraction: . . . (j) Section 13004, relating to unlawful use of an identification card . . . (n) Section 14610, relating to unlawful use of a driver's license . . . .”)

29 Penal Code 472 PC – Forgery of a public seal [compare to crime of possessing or displaying a fake ID]. (“Every person who, with intent to defraud another, forges, or counterfeits the seal of this State, the seal of any public officer authorized by law, the seal of any Court of record, or the seal of any corporation, or any other public seal authorized or recognized by the laws of this State, or of any other State, Government, or country, or who falsely makes, forges, or counterfeits any impression purporting to be an impression of any such seal, or who has in his possession any such counterfeited seal or impression thereof, knowing it to be counterfeited, and willfully conceals the same, is guilty of forgery.”)

30 Penal Code 473 PC – Forgery; punishment [compare to penalties for Penal Code 470 PC]. (“(a) Forgery is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.”)

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