Here’s a situation we see a lot. An officer who works for the ALE/Alcohol Law Enforcement Agency (North Carolina Department of Public Safety) sees a young looking person walking out of a grocery store with a case of beer. What can that officer do to investigate what he suspects is an underage purchase of alcohol? What are your rights when confronted by a police officer demanding that you produce ID?
If the young looking college student looks close to 21 in age then he/she cannot be arrested unless it’s obvious that the buyer is around 10 years old. Usually in these situations the person’s age is debatable – an 18 year old college student can look 22 and on the flip side a 22 year old student can look 18. The officer may suspect you are under 21 but that alone does not give the officer probable cause to arrest - based solely on how old someone may or may not look when suspected of purchasing alcohol under 21.
Generally the officer will conduct a consentual stop and ask the suspect whether he or she is old enough to purchase alcohol. The officer can also ask for identification. The officer can ask these questions outside of the store but as in all cases an individual is NOT required to produce ID on demand (assuming you’re not driving your car at the time – the rules are much different when you’re behind the wheel) nor is an individual required to answer police questions. Of course there is a good way and a bad way to refuse to answer questions – the good way involves being very respectful to the officer and politely refusing to answer questions. You can probably guess about the bad way – it involves rude behavior and usually leads to other police charges.
If you (1) do not produce ID and (2) do not answer questions then an officer cannot just arrest you because (1) you look young and (2) because you refused to answer questions or to produce identification. If an officer approaches you outside of a store you generally are NOT required to produce photo identification on demand.
North Carolina has no stop-and-identify statute for these situations and Supreme Court decisions have not created a free-standing requirement that detained persons identify themselves. While the officer may be able to detain a beer buyer for a few minutes while attempting to verify his or her age — if the officer can’t make any progress within a reasonable time, the officer generally must let the young looking beer buyer go.
Having said all of this the rules are much different when the young looking beer buyer is behind the wheel. Then the officer can pull over the car for some sort of DMV or driving violation and has more power to compel the buyer to produce his license based on an investigation of any minor traffic or vehicle code violation. Of course, this won’t work if the buyer walked to the store, or if the buyer got a ride from a friend.
If you are charged with purchasing alcohol underage you can contact The Law Offices fo Wiley Nickel for a free consultation. We will walk you through the process for definding the charges. You can reach us at 919-585-1486 or you can contact Drinking Ticket Attorney Wiley Nickel at firstname.lastname@example.org at your convenience.