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The trouble you can face for a false license plate

Did you happen to see the story recently about the roundup of an alleged crime ring in another state? Authorities are getting ready to accuse the group of, among other things, renting fraudulent license plates.

At first blush, that there might be a way to make money renting license plates – fake or real -- might strike readers as odd. Further examination of the matter, however, reveals the possibilities, at least as far as the government is concerned. In Virginia, it is a misdemeanor traffic offense to alter or forge any license plate issued by any state with fraudulent intent. It's also illegal to knowingly display, or allow to be displayed, a fake plate on a vehicle.

While a misdemeanor charge might not seem very significant, the nature of possible penalties for a conviction of either of the offenses above are significant.

Someone charged and convicted of the first crime, forging or altering a plate, would be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. The punishment for that could be up to a year in jail, a fine of as much as $2,500 or both.

A charge of knowingly displaying a fraudulent plate, or allowing the display of one, is a Class 2 misdemeanor. The penalty for that is as much as six months of incarceration, a $1,000 fine or both.

The element of note in both the scenarios presented in the statutes is that of intent. It is hard to imagine anyone unknowingly forging a license plate. However, it is possible that someone could be cited for unwittingly displaying a phony plate. The question worth asking is whether the state can prove intent.

Considering the nature of the possible punishment in the event of a conviction, it's clear that the charges are serious, even if they are only misdemeanors.

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