Those who apply for or seek to renew a New York driver’s license or vehicle registration may receive a letter or phone call from a DMV investigator wanting to ask questions by phone or in person about the application. While one’s first inclination may be to cooperate with the investigator, doing so may subject one to potentially serious consequences. It is quite common for an individual to show up at NY DMV headquarters in Albany for an appointment with the investigator only to be met by a New York State Trooper who will arrest them on the spot and bring him/her to criminal court where he/she will be charged with either a misdemeanor (punishable by up to a year in county jail) or a felony offense (punishable by a year or more in state prison).
Failing to respond truthfully to questions on a NY driver’s license or vehicle registration application or providing false documentation to the DMV can not only subject a person to loss of the NY license but also criminal liability and result in a non-expungeable criminal record. Under NY Penal Law, providing false information in an effort to obtain a NY driver’s license can result in being charged with any one or more of the following serious crimes, each of which falls under the broader category of fraud:
- Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree under NY PL 175.35, which is a Class E Felony, or in the Second Degree under NY PL 175.30, which is a Class A misdemeanor offense.
- Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree under NY PL 175.10, which is a Class E Felony, or in the Second Degree under NY PL 175.05, which is a Class A misdemeanor.
- Making a Punishable False Written Statement under NY PL 210.45, which is a Class A misdemeanor.
- Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree under NY PL 170.25, which is a Class D felony.
These days, the most common way that people end up in trouble with DMV is via photo matching technology, which can determine whether or not an individual has had a previous driver’s license.
The standard driver’s license application is known as the MV-44. This form contains the following question:
Do you now have or did you ever have a New York driver license?
Many applicants either intentionally or unintentionally select the “No” box and when the photo match technology reveals that their photo did, in fact, appear on a different driver’s license, it prompts the DMV fraud department to get involved. Sometimes it’s an innocent mistake, but most of the time this conflict occurs when someone’s license has been suspended or revoked and now they are trying to get a new license under a different name. It is also quite common for immigrants to obtain a license under a false name before they are naturalized and then later apply for a new license under their actual name.
What Are the Penalties for Offering a False Instrument in New York?
The consequences for a conviction for offering a false instrument for filing depend on the severity of the charge. Offering a false instrument in the second degree carries a sentence of one year in prison. Offering a false instrument in the first degree carries a sentence of up to four years.
What is Offering a False Instrument for Filing?
Under NY Penal Code 175.30, a person is guilty in the second degree of offering a false instrument for filing when the prosecutor proves each of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The person offered or presented a written instrument to a public office for filing
- The person knew that the written instrument contained a false statement or false information
- The person knew or believed that the written instrument would be filed, registered, or become a part of the public office’s records
If the prosecutor can also prove that the person intended to defraud the State of NY by filing the false written instrument, then the person will be guilty of the crime in the first degree, which is a Class E felony (NYCP 175.35).
Both the misdemeanor and felony versions of the crime define “written instrument” broadly to include any document that conveys information and which can be used to the advantage or disadvantage of some person, and in People v. Headley, the Supreme Court of NY held that a document filed with a public office will be considered a “written instrument” when it contains information that will be relied on for its accuracy by a government official. Thus, when a person provides false or inaccurate information on a license application in order to obtain a NY driver’s license, he/she could be subjected to the criminal charge of offering a false instrument for filing because the DMV, which is a public office, is relying on that information to make its determination to issue a NY driver’s license.
With respect to the felony version of the offense, the NY Court of Appeals has held that intent to defraud can be defined as committing an act for the purpose of leading another into error or disadvantage, according to People v. Briggins 50 N.Y.2d 302, 309 (1980). In People v. Kase, “intent to defraud” was found where a defendant filed a false statement with a public agency because, by way of his misrepresentation, the defendant sought to interfere with the State’s ability to carry out its legitimate and official purpose of issuing liquor licenses. Thus, in the context of a driver’s license application, if the prosecution can prove that a misrepresentation was made for the purpose of getting the DMV to issue a NY driver’s license, one could be charged with the felony version of offering a false instrument for filing.
How Can Providing False Information on My Application Affect My Driver’s License or Privilege to Drive in NY?
In addition to a criminal offense under the NY Penal Code, a person who provides false information on a driver’s license or vehicle registration application can also be charged under the NY Vehicle and Traffic Law, and this can result in a suspension or revocation of one’s NY driver’s license or privilege to drive in NY.
Under NY Vehicle and Traffic Law § 392, a person is guilty of a misdemeanor offense where the person knowingly made a false statement on his or her driver’s license application or provides false information or proof in connection with their driver’s license application. A person is also guilty of a misdemeanor under this section of the VTL if that person operates his car using a license that he or she obtained in violation of VTL § 392.
Once charged with a violation under § 392, the Commissioner of motor vehicles has the authority under VTL § 510 to investigate the violation at a DMV suspension hearing, and if warranted, suspend or revoke the NY driver’s license. For a non-resident of NY with an out-of-state driver’s license who is charged under § 392, § 510 authorizes the Commissioner to suspend or revoke the person’s privilege to drive on the roads in NY pending the outcome of the DMV suspension hearing.
Defenses to Offering a False Instrument
To beat a charge of offering a false instrument, a person must disprove (or prevent an investigator from being able to prove) one or both of the following:
- That the information submitted was false. If a person can demonstrate that the information was, in fact, truthful, then the charge can be dismissed.
- That the person knowingly submitted false information. If it can be shown that there was no way the person could have realized the application in question contained false information, that can be used to potentially beat the charge.
It’s worth pointing out that not “intending to defraud” the DMV will not beat a first-degree charge, although it could lessen it to a second-degree charge, which is still serious.
Why Hire An Attorney for a Charge of Offering a False Instrument?
Being charged with offering a false instrument for filing in New York is not a simple scenario. Even an honest person can land themselves in hot water by saying the wrong thing to an investigator or judge. That’s why an expert attorney is urgently needed. A skilled attorney can examine the facts of the case to come up with the most effective defense strategy. He/she can also provide guidance when dealing with an investigator to ensure that the client does not accidentally incriminate himself or herself. Sometimes DMV investigators will contact the license holder and offer a plea bargain or settlement. It would be advisable to discuss this with an attorney before accepting the offer.
What Do I Do if I Have Been Charged with a Crime or a Violation of VTL § 392 for Lying on My Driver’s License Application?
Whether you have been charged with a crime or under the VTL for providing false or inaccurate information on your driver’s license application, you should contact an experienced criminal and traffic ticket attorney at Rosenblum Law. Our attorneys can ensure your rights are protected and that an appropriate defense can be presented at the DMV suspension hearing and/or in criminal court. Contact us at 888-883-5529 for a free consultation.