SD7 - False Identification Cards (SJR 363, 2009)

Executive Summary:
I. Authority

The Code of Virginia, § 30-156, authorizes the Virginia State Crime Commission (“Crime Commission”) to study, report and make recommendations on all areas of public safety and protection. In so doing, the Crime Commission shall endeavor to ascertain the causes of crime and recommend ways to reduce and prevent it, explore and recommend methods of rehabilitation of convicted criminals, study compensation of persons in law enforcement and related fields and study other related matters including apprehension, trial and punishment of criminal offenders. (*1) Section 30-158(3) empowers the Crime Commission to conduct studies and gather information and data in order to accomplish its purpose as set forth in § 30-156 … and formulate its recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly.

Using the statutory authority granted by the General Assembly to the Crime Commission, and pursuant to a Senate Joint Resolution, staff conducted a study on the issue of false identification cards in the Commonwealth.

II. Executive Summary

During the 2009 Regular Session of the Virginia General Assembly, Senator Stephen H. Martin introduced Senate Joint Resolution 363, which directed the Crime Commission to “study issues regarding the apprehension and prosecution of persons with false identification cards.” (*2) Also to be examined were measures to prevent the use of such cards, the identification of such cards by law enforcement and others, and judicial procedures related to the prosecution of offenses involving false identification cards.

Dr. Don Boswell, Director of Law Enforcement Services for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”), presented information to the Crime Commission on the new identification cards being issued in Virginia. These cards are amongst the most advanced issued by any of the fifty states—arguably the most advanced at the present time—and have a number of security features designed to thwart counterfeiting efforts. In combination with new DMV processing procedures, such as mailing the new identification cards to a specific address instead of issuing them directly to an applicant in a DMV office, these cards should greatly help to reduce the number of false identification cards in Virginia. They are being phased in over the next several years as Virginians renew their driver’s licenses, or new licenses are issued. In eight years time, all Virginia driver’s licenses and identification cards will have been updated to the more advanced version.

There are ten criminal statutes in the Code of Virginia that deal with false identification documents, creating over thirty different criminal offenses. These cover a gamut of crimes, ranging from the possession of a false driver’s license, to obtaining or attempting to obtain a false identification document, to manufacturing false identification documents, with some overlap between the offenses. Data obtained from the Virginia Compensation Board and the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission for fiscal years (“FY”) 2007 and 2008 indicate that several hundred people are convicted each year of offenses involving false identification documents. Staff solicited general comments from local law enforcement, sheriffs, and Commonwealth’s Attorneys throughout the state on this issue. No indication was received that Virginia’s current criminal statutes are insufficient to prosecute these offenses. Law enforcement’s general estimate as to the scope of the problem of false driver’s licenses in Virginia varied widely, depending upon geographic location. The Bureau of Law Enforcement for the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control commented that in their view, the prevalence of false identification documents in the Commonwealth is a serious problem, with the manufacture and use of such items not currently on the decline.
(*1) VA. CODE ANN § 30-156 (Michie 2009).
(*2) S.J. Res. 363, Gen. Assem., Reg. Sess. (Va. 2009).