Last month, the New Jersey appeals court rejected a constitutional challenge to the statute that makes it illegal to possess or create fake IDs and other government documents, namely Social Security cards and driver’s licenses, criminal law firms in New Jersey report. The Appellate Division said that the statute did not “disallow substantial amounts of constitutionally protected expression,” and was not too broad or vague in its language.
The appeal was brought by defendant Daniel Borjas, who is currently serving out a 6 ½ year sentence for owning fake government documents. The falsified driver’s license and Social Security card images were found on his computer hard drive during a 2009 raid of his home by Bergen County police officers. The raid was intended to bust Borjas for the alleged possession and distribution of child pornography, so police confiscated and investigated three computers, six hard drives, a Blackberry, and several DVDs. The images found on Borjas’ hard drives showed New Jersey licenses in another person’s name, and a matching Social Security card. Borjas was charged with violating N.J.S.A. 2C:21-2.1, the state law that prohibits distributing or owning fake copies of official documents.
This law was originally introduced in 1983 to eliminate the widespread use of fake photo IDs for underage teens trying to purchase alcohol or gain access to bars and other 21-and-over venues. Since then, lawmakers have amended the law to incorporate advances in technology that have allowed people to create fake drivers’ licenses complete with digital images and hidden bar codes, and to include birth certificates as documents that cannot be duplicated or created.
Borjas appealed his sentencing, claiming that the statute could be in violation of his right to free speech, citing examples of artists using fake documents in films, photos, or illustrations, and students studying criminology or information technology ethics as other users who could be prosecuted unfairly under this law. The Appellate Court rejected this claim, saying that the officers had found “no indication whatsoever in the record that the defendant possessed the computer images...and had altered those images, in the pursuit of art, literature, political satire, education, or protected expression.”
The court’s ruling highlighted the occasions in which the statute does not hold up, for obvious uses of fake documents. The statute is also not meant to prosecute persons who have intentionally made them false—using a fake, easily recognizable name such as “George Washington” or “Jane Doe.” They also excused obvious innocent uses of copying, such as a parent making copies of a child’s Social Security card to send to schools, or insurance applications. Additionally, the judges stressed that the statute does include non-physical copies of documents, like the computer-stored images that Borjas had, as potentially criminal.
At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, a criminal law firm in New Jersey, our attorneys represent persons who have been charged with crimes in the state, and those who want to appeal an existing sentence or have one overturned. For more information regarding HCK services and your case, contact an attorney today for a free, no-strings consultation.