Suppose Alice runs a bar in the US, so patrons must be 21 or older. Bob comes to the bar with a fake ID, and Alice allows him to order drinks. Normally if Bob were caught, it seems that there would be no real consequences for Alice. But what if Bob’s ID was clearly fake, to the point where no reasonable person would trust it? Could Alice be held accountable for accepting a fake ID? Would that be sufficient to count as aiding and abetting Bob? Is there any standard of reasonable verification in this type of situation?

Edit: I originally asked this with the specific situation above, but I am curious about this in any context where documents need to be verified.

  • Related question (not a duplicate): Is it legal for a bar bouncer to confiscate a fake ID
    – ColleenV
    Jul 23, 2021 at 15:55
  • 1
    Your particular question, pertaining to bar keepers and serving of alcohol, is is an extremely distorted case, due to extreme state laws trying to reduce drunk driving. The answer in this case may not reflect how the laws work generally. Jul 23, 2021 at 18:46
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    @Harper laws on alcohol were a very sp0ecial case long before any issue of drunk driving. Special laws on alcohol existed in the Colonial period prior to US Independence, and have existed ever since. So called "dramshop" laws holding bartenders liable for drunken acts of patrons also go back a long ways. Jul 23, 2021 at 19:40
  • Related law.stackexchange.com/q/65077/344
    – Dale M
    Jul 23, 2021 at 21:30

2 Answers 2


The standard of care to determine documents are accurate varies.

For example, in an ordinary notarized document, notarizing the signature of an imposter will ordinarily only impose liability on the notary for harm caused by the fraudulent imposter signing, if the notary is negligent, i.e. fails to use the reasonable care of a similarly situated notary.

But, suppose that instead of a notary, the imposter uses a fake ID to get a bank to confirm his identity as part of a "guaranteed signature", which is a parallel system of confirming people's identities arising from an industry organization and mostly used to confirm identity in life insurance payouts and other non-probate transfers (e.g. pay on death bank accounts). In the bank that guarantees the signature is duped, the bank has strict liability without regard to fault to the party that is harmed by the imposter's bad signature.

In the case of fake signatures on checks, there is an elaborate web of statutes in Articles 3 and 4 of the Uniform Commercial Code and some related federal regulations, but basically, it boils down to the harm from a forged check falling on the person who dealt most closely with the imposter.

The standard for a Fake IDs used to get alcohol is particularly tricky because rather than flowing from a common law rule, it usually depends upon the exact language of a liquor regulation statute and related regulations, so it is often non-uniform.

There is not a general rule governing this situation and that situation is very common in American law. More often than not, you can not determine the correct answer to a legal question by simply applying a general rule to a new situation. Law is not physics.


Laws on this vary considerably between the various US states. I will give an answer for the state of Maryland.

Under Maryland code section§10–117 it is an offense to knowingly furnish alcohol to a person under 21 for consumption.

Under Maryland code section 10–113 it is an offense for a person to misrepresent age or provide false ID in order to obtain alcohol. Under section 10-115 it is an offense to posses a false ID for such a purpose.

Maryland code section 8-303 also prohibits possession or display of any of various ID documents "with fraudulent intent".

In Maryland much of the regulation of alcohol is done on a county or municipal basis. Not atypical is Annapolis code section 7.12.370 - (Minors—Sale or providing to) which reads:

No person, either alone, or by a clerk, agent, servant or employee, directly or indirectly, shall sell, furnish, give, serve or deliver any alcoholic beverage to any person under the age of twenty-one years. Violation of this section shall be a municipal infraction punishable by a fine as established by resolution of the City Council and shall be assessed against the person serving the alcohol to the underaged person.

Note that this law does not have any requirement of the seller acting "knowingly".

I have not been able to find any provision of Maryland law which specifically imposes on a bartender, waiter or other seller a specific degree of inspection of an ID for alcohol sale. But unofficial sources indicate that a seller must make a careful check, and that sales to an underage person with a false ID can result in significant fines and other penalties.

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