Background: I read a Reddit thread where someone had an international passport confiscated from them at a bar. I imagine that the bouncer probably didn't recognize what he was looking at and assumed it was a fake ID.

From what I understand, the bar does not have the authority to confiscate such a real passport, but that got me to thinking, what if the Bouncer was right? Does he actually have the legal authority to confiscate the fake ID?

The reason I ask, is because if he does have that authority, it feels to me like an awkward law, because a simple gap in knowledge can be what makes the difference between legal and illegal.

  • 29
    I don't know about Illinois, but in Colorado, bar employees do have the legal authority to confiscate a suspected fake ID, if they have "reasonable cause" to believe it is fake. They must turn it over to the police within 72 hours, at which point, if it is actually real, the holder could get it back. See the Colorado Liquor Code, 44-3-901 (6) (a) (II) (A), page 77. Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 18:56
  • 5
    What happens if it is real and the owner can not be reached? Even if it was explained to him and accepted, reaching him could get impossible later. Commented Jun 5, 2019 at 7:28
  • 3
    @VolkerSiegel, why would the bar need to reach the owner? If the owner wants it back, they will find the bar and if applicable, the bar will direct them to the police.
    – JPhi1618
    Commented Jun 5, 2019 at 15:46
  • 12
    Usually it would be the other way round, the passport owner would direct the police to the bar. I don't think that being too stupid to recognise a foreign passport is "reasonable cause" to believe it is fake.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jun 5, 2019 at 18:29
  • 6
    As an extra-legal answer, consider that most who posess a fake id and get it confiscated are quite uninterested in calling the police in to resolve the matter, nor interested in getting into a fight over it.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jun 6, 2019 at 0:24

5 Answers 5


There are a couple of indications that a bouncer may not confiscate an ID. This policy document adopting licensing policies to

Require licensees with fake ID violations to temporarily or permanently hire on-site law enforcement or certified security guards who are properly trained to check IDs during regular or peak hours to deter the use of fake IDs and give gatekeepers the opportunity to pass suspected fakes to an officer or guard for a second opinion and potential confiscation. Where appropriate, jurisdictions could empower the gatekeeper to confiscate fake IDs so they are not returned to the underage drinker and sent back into circulation. To ensure compliance with legal issues (e.g., property rights, bailment issues), arrange for the on-call or on-site presence of local law enforcement. Local bar and restaurant associations, especially those in concentrated entertainment zones, can join together to share the expense of law enforcement resources.

That implies that the bouncer does not already have that authority, and also indicates that the confiscation should be performed by the police. This bouncer training manual says that

Even though you may consider the ID to be fake, it is not considered the server's property. Therefore servers and sellers should not confiscate IDs they suspect to be fake. Rather... follow up with a call to the police to verify suspected false IDs.

However, a jurisdiction may grant servers that power, as in the case of Colorado. Washington doesn't do that, so bouncers would need to call the police (not that they always do, since passing a fake ID is somewhere between a misdemeanor and a felony). The general principle is that you may not confiscate another person's property, but the police can seize property if it is reasonable to do so. A state may pass a law authorizing a licensee to do likewise (though it does raise questions about the bouncer's understanding of "reasonable cause to believe"). The Colorado statute is restricted to licensee and their employees, and does not apply to "anyone who suspects an ID", nor does it allow civilian confiscation of other property such as an automobile that is suspected of being stolen.

  • 61
    There is a world of difference between a fake student ID/driving license and an actual passport. I am a European often travelling to the US (Colorado even). My government IDs always look alien for US bartender so I have to use my passport at all time when I get ID checked. Even then, 20% of the time I get rejected (illiterate people who can't find my DOB on my passport even though it's written in plain english). I usually just walk away to another place ... but I can garantee that if any guy who can't read properly tries to "confiscate" my passport I will be the first one to call the police.
    – Hoki
    Commented Jun 5, 2019 at 10:20
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    I see a major issue here if this is indeed a passport. If the passport contains a visa to be in the USA, it is actually a crime to not have it in your personal possession at all times. You are required to immediately report to the police and contact an embassy if this document is stolen (and I expect illegally confiscating it counts as stealing). lexology.com/library/…
    – Vality
    Commented Jun 5, 2019 at 19:39
  • 5
    I don't think your first paragraph is actually relevant here. That was just a paper someone wrote about the problem, and that was one of their recommendations for how to improve the situation. It does not in any way imply that confiscating is forbidden anywhere. It only implies that, in their ideal system, that is how it would work.
    – animuson
    Commented Jun 5, 2019 at 23:20
  • @Hoki I know someone fron NJ who draveled to Colorado, where they thought the ID was fake (I think it has something to do with the rotation of the license, landscape vs. portrait). Fortunately theirs was not confiscated, as it was a legitimate NJ driver's license. Commented Jun 6, 2019 at 1:21
  • 1
    @animuson, the recommendation is incomprehensible if confiscation is already allowed. Is your claim that confiscations are actually generally legal and the author is ignorant of that fact?
    – user6726
    Commented Jun 6, 2019 at 1:53

ServSafe actually has a compiled list of documents which identify a lot of information about the various aspects of alcohol sales within each state. I've separated them into three categories based on whether the state allows, disallows, or does not regulate it one way or the other.

Of course, keep in mind that these are state laws and laws may be even more specific at the city or county level.

States that allow confiscating IDs


Yes, licensees may confiscate false IDs and must turn the confiscated IDs over to law enforcement as soon as possible.




A licensee or his employee may seize any identification from a person that shows to be under 21 or false, so long as a receipt is given to the person from whom it was seized and the seized identification is given over to the local law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction over the premises with in 24 hours.


Establishments in Colorado may confiscate false IDs. Contact the Colorado Liquor Enforcement Division or local government for the relevant statutes and information.

District of Columbia

Confiscation is not authorized by law it may be done by licensees

This language is unclear, but appears to say that licensees may confiscate.


Licensees may confiscate false IDs if they report the confiscation to the local law enforcement. Consult Georgia statutes for specifics.


Yes, due to it being illegal for any minor to use a fake id or the identification of another person in an attempt to purchase liquor or to obtain employment to serve or sell liquor in a licensed establishment.

Reasoning does not make sense on this one. It's illegal everywhere, but that doesn't necessarily give licensees the right to confiscate.


Licensees may confiscate false IDs. After the ID is confiscated, it should be turned over to the ABC or a local law enforcement agency.


Licensees may retain false IDs. If it appears to be altered, falsified or belong to someone else. If the ID is a state-issued license or ID card, the licensee must provide written receipt of retainment to the person from whom the card was taken. Within twenty-four hours the card must be delivered to local law enforcement and the licensee must file a written report of the incident. Licensees may be subject to criminal prosecution or civil liability for retaining state-issued ID if proper procedures are not followed or it excessive force is used in obtaining the identification. See Iowa code section 123.48.


Operators should confiscate fake ID’s and turn them over to local police.


Licensees may retain false IDs without liability. It must be for a reasonable period of time and the licensee must make a good faith effort to determine legal age. The holder of the ID must be informed of why the ID is being held.


Michigan authorizes licensees to confiscate IDs they recognize as false. Adulterated/fraudulent ID may be confiscated. Unadulterated ID should not be confiscated (ex. Minor purchasing with own ID).


A licensed retailer or municipal liquor store may seize an ID if the retailer or municipal liquor store has reasonable grounds to believe that it has been altered or falsified or is being used to violate any law. It must be delivered to a law enforcement agency within 24 hours of seizing it.




Yes, operators should confiscate fake IDs and turn it over to the local authorities unless their life is threatened.


Nebraska does not prohibit licensees from confiscating false IDs. Licensees may also use a documentary proof of age

New Hampshire:

An ID recognized as false can be confiscated for a reasonable length of time to make a good faith effort to determine whether the person is of legal age of to notify law enforcement officials of a suspected violation of law.

New Jersey:

May confiscate, but not required to take a suspected fake ID. Licensees and servers are cautioned to exercise caution. Has option to refuse service at any time to any person suspected of being under legal drinking age or intoxicated.

New Mexico:

New Mexico affirms that an ID is personal property; if an establishment chooses to confiscate the document, it is their decision.

Honestly not sure how to parse that. The first sentence makes it seem as though confiscating would be theft, but the second seems to imply there is nothing wrong with them doing so.

North Carolina

Establishments may confiscate IDs they recognize as false.


Licensees may hold identification until authorities are notified and ID is turned in.


Yes and if DMV identification is used in misrepresentation, the minor's driving privileges may be suspended for up to one year and/or the minor will have to wait for up to one year to apply for a driver's license.

Rhode Island



125.039 Civil liability exemption for retaining proofs of age. "No person who holds a license or permit and no employee of such a person is civilly liable for retaining a document presented as proof of age for a reasonable length of time in a good faith effort to determine whether the person who presented the document is a underage person or to notify a law enforcement authority of a suspected violation of s. 125.085 (3) (a) or (b)."

States that do NOT allow confiscating IDs


Alabama law does not authorize licensees to confiscate false IDs. However some establishments have chosen to take this step. Any seized ID should be turned over to the local police department of Alabama ABC immediately.

The second sentence suggests this may just be unregulated versus a hard ban, but classified as not allowed for now.


Establishments cannot confiscate false IDs. If a false ID is identified, establishments should call the local police department.


Rather than confiscate the ID, the licensee may require the guest whose age is in doubt to sign a sworn statement, on forms provided by the state that they are of age and understand the penalties for misrepresenting their age to purchase alcohol. In addition, the licensee may take a photo of the guest and make a photocopy of the ID of the guest in question. Both of these may be used as a defense in the event the licensee is charged with serving a minor.


Florida does not authorize licensees to confiscate false IDs. Licensees who recognize false IDs should refuse the sale and contact local law enforcement.


No, may not confiscate. But a permittee has the right to demand that a customer sign a written statement on a form prescribed by the Alcohol and Tobacco commission stating that they are not a minor. Retailers should contact local police is they suspect a minor is carrying a fake ID.


Kansas authority does not recommend confiscating false IDs. Licensees should notify local authorities.

Though "does not recommend" suggests it is not actually regulated.


Licensees in Maryland have no legal authority to confiscate false IDs.

New York

Licensees are not authorized to confiscate IDs they recognize as false. Licensees should notify the police or local law enforcement officials and refuse sale.

North Dakota

Any licensee may keep a book and may require anyone who has shown documentary proof of his age, which substantiates his age to allow the purchase of alcoholic beverages, to sign the book if the age of that person is in question. The book must show the date of the purchase, the identification used in making the purchase and the appropriate numbers of such identification, the address of the purchaser, and the purchaser’s signature.


Pennsylvania licensees should contact a law enforcement officer rather than retain an obviously fraudulent ID.

South Dakota

SDCL 35-9-2.1 allows a merchant to detain someone they believe is under the age of 21 or is using a false identification if they have posted a notice stating they may detain a person they believe is under the age of 21, or is using a false identification, in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable amount of time in order to reasonably verify their identification and to inform law enforcement officers or parents of a minor.

Classifying as not allowed, since they're only allowed to detain and this implies that if proper signage is not posted, they would not be allowed to detain or confiscate.


Tennessee law does not allow licensees to confiscate false IDs. Licensees who recognize an ID as false should contact a TABC agent or the local police.


Virginia does not authorize the confiscation of false IDs; licensees should contact an ABC agent or the local police department.


Licensees may not confiscate an ID they believe to be false. Licensees are urged to call local law enforcement officials or their local liquor agents and advise them of the situation.

States that do not regulate


Not regulated


Operator may confiscate fake IDs, if comfortable doing so, and turn in to local law enforcement. But not officially regulated by state.


Per the Louisiana Office of Alcohol & Tobacco Control, "there is no written policy when it comes to the responsibility of the licensed permittee and fake IDs. Of course, you would want to get the fake ID from the suspect, however, that may not always be the safest course to go. If it becomes an unsafe situation, then let the suspect leave with the ID. If possible, get the person's name off the ID and notify the police. Do not place your employees in harm's way in order to attempt to secure the fake ID. This is something that each location may want to discuss with their employees and develop some sort of policy."


Massachusetts does not have any statute or state regulation addressing this subject.


For information on this topic contact the Miscellaneous Tax Division, State Tax Commission at 601-923-7175.


Regulated at the city and county level.


Ohio does not have specific state laws which specify whether an establishment may or may not seize a false ID.

South Carolina



Not regulated


Not regulated





The page for West Virginia does not seem to exist.

  • No law for it, and yet, its governor is Jim Justice. ;)
    – Cœur
    Commented Jun 6, 2019 at 4:24
  • Could you please add the District of Columbia to your list? I would do it myself, but I'm confused by the language on ServSave, so I'm not sure which section to put it in.
    – David K
    Commented Jun 6, 2019 at 16:24

A few complications since this is a passport:

  • The passport is the property of the issuing sovereign Nation.
  • Typically the laws of the locality require the non-citizen be in possession of the passport.

The person should get his own embassy involved since it's their document. The local police should also be pulled in if they are not corrupt- the embassy could provide guidance on this.

Since the bouncer was acting in good faith, even if he was in error, he is protected from criminal liability for the taking.

However, taking of the legitimate passport could disrupt the person's travel plans, and civil liability for that could rest on the local establishment.


It depends on the situation. The bouncer can take the fake ID long enough to call the police, since the person is committing a crime and it can be reported.

The police would then decide what to do with it. If you are saying you don't feel the establishment should be able to take your belongings, they are just holding them until the police arrive to investigate.


It is not illegal on a federal level. It may or may not be required on a local level.

So, legally, it may be allowed, forbidden or required depending on location (which could be down to an individual bar, ie one bar in a city may be required to do so, and another bar in the same city may be forbidden to do so based upon local ordinances and past behavior).

But from a practical perspective it’s not really a problem —- if your valid ID is taken, the proper thing to do is to call the police immediately (preferably while standing in front of the bouncer) and report your stolen ID. Whether they are planning on handing it over to the police or not, that should get your ID back within an hour, possibly as quickly as a few minutes.

At that point it won’t matter whether the bouncer is legally able to confiscate your ID, what will matter is whether the local cop recognizes it’s validity.

  • Someone stole your stuff? Don't worry! It's not really a problem!
    – bdb484
    Commented Jun 7, 2019 at 1:54

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