Do you need to show your ID on demand if you are suspected of purchasing beer or alcohol underage?

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 at your convenience.


Wiley Nickel

Wiley Nickel lives and works in Cary, North Carolina. In 1998, he graduated from Tulane University with a major in Political Science and a minor in History. After college Wiley went to work for Al Gore and travelled with the Vice President as part of his national advance staff. Following the Gore campaign he earned his law degree from the Pepperdine University School of Law in 2005. While in law school Wiley worked as a law clerk in the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office where he gained valuable criminal trial experience before taking and passing the California bar exam. His first job out of law school was for the Merced County District Attorney’s Office where he worked as a Deputy District Attorney with a focus on prosecuting DWI offenders. Wiley later joined the Law Offices of Joseph Uremovic where he focused on civil litigation and family law. When the opportunity came to join the Obama campaign in 2008 Wiley jumped at the chance. He spent three years travelling with President Obama as a member of his national advance team. In 2011 Wiley left his work for the White House to return to the practice of law. Wiley devotes the majority of his practice to the areas of criminal law, family law, traffic tickets and DMV issues. The Law Offices of Wiley Nickel was started with the goal of providing the best representation possible for all of his clients. Experienced, Compassionate, Aggressive Criminal Defense While defense attorney Wiley Nickel works as the primary attorney for all of his cases, he does have an associate attorney, a team of investigators, forensic consultants, and support staff to call on to help achieve the best possible result in every case. He limits his case load so that he can focus on providing the best possible legal defense to all of his clients. Every case is a top priority and the goal is to have your case dismissed with a focus on being able to expunge your charges at the end of the process. When he is not working, Wiley is an avid family man, distance runner and golfer. He loves North Carolina college sports and is hoping this is the year for Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. Wiley is licensed to practice law in North Carolina and California.