Harsh fake ID penalties excessive

By Editorial Board

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White launched a campaign on Oct. 1 to raise awareness among individuals under 21 about the harsh penalties surrounding the use of fake government-issued identification in Illinois.

If convicted of using a fake ID, potential consequences include one-year suspension of a driver’s license, fines of $500–$25,000 and one to three years in prison. As part of the campaign, White is traveling to colleges across Illinois to elaborate on the penalties of using fake IDs, which have become substantially easier to obtain via the Internet, according to an Oct. 1 press release from White’s office. Since 2012, more than 1,200 people in Illinois have been caught using fake IDs.

Although it is important for the state to monitor fake ID use in Illinois, the campaign is an unnecessary waste of resources and tax revenue. Some penalties seem overly harsh in a state that suffers from a severe deficit and law enforcement strains.

Compared to other states, Illinois imposes moderate penalties for fake ID use. The harshest penalty is in Florida, where lawbreakers can be charged with a third-degree felony, which carries a maximum punishment of up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Clearly, states have taken strict measures when drafting punishment for fake ID use. However, the charges seem excessive as state and federal prisons already suffer from overcrowding. In Cook County jails, overcrowding has become such an issue that Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has recently supported efforts to reduce punishments for misdemeanors. Due to overcrowding, hundreds of inmates are waiting years in Cook County jails for their trials, costing Cook County $143 a day to hold each inmate, as reported Jan. 27 by The Chronicle. Harshly punishing fake ID use with prison time seems irresponsible at a time when the state is having a hard enough time housing current inmates.

Furthermore, punishing someone with prison time for a crime that is all too common in a college culture that normalizes underage drinking seems grossly unfair. That is not to say that those who possess fake IDs should not be punished, but the state should look at the core of the issue—sellers who provide the IDs. The state should focus on tracking down those providers. Until then, confiscating the ID, requiring community service and a hefty fine are all intimidating enough punishments.

Considering there are already actions being taken by the state to increase awareness about fake ID use in Illinois, the public awareness campaign appears excessive. According to the press release, secretary of state experts already travel to law enforcement, liquor establishments and other commercial entities across the state to train employees on how to spot a fake ID. There is also the Safe ID Task Force, which White established, which works to create foolproof Illinois identification cards. Creating a campaign seems like an added drain on taxpayer dollars that are already working to combat the problem.

In time for election season, this campaign seems more like a ploy from White to appeal to voters. However, it does not provide real solutions to the culture surrounding fake ID use and alcohol consumption among college students. Until then, the issue will largely remain.