An underage student stands in line outside a popular bar on Franklin Street and gives their fake ID to a bouncer. After looking at it for a moment, the bouncer passes it back — not to the student, but to an undercover alcohol law enforcement officer behind him. The student is ticketed immediately.
J. Tristan Routh, an attorney with Carolina Student Legal Services, said he’s seen dozens of cases like this so far this year.
A ticket for using a fake isn’t like a ticket for speeding, Routh said. Fake ID possession is a class one misdemeanor under North Carolina law, the second highest level of misdemeanor.
“A misdemeanor means it’s an arrestable offense; technically people can be arrested for it,” Routh said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time we don’t actually see people get arrested for it. The only time we see people get arrested for the charge is when they either assaulted the officer or they refused to give their name or identify themselves.”
Routh said an individual can theoretically be charged with a felony when using a fake, and he's seen it happen recently.
“We have seen a few cases this semester where people accidentally, as far as we can tell, accidentally got charged with a felony because the statute citation is very close," he said. "So we’re not sure if an officer intentionally did that or if was just sort of an error when the clerk entered the charge into the system at the courthouse. We don’t know.”
Even though the mistake could be corrected, it could still impact a student's record for years to come, since the felony charge could still pop up on background checks.
Despite the risks associated with fake IDs, many students possess and attempt to use fakes regularly. David, an underage student at UNC who wishes to remain anonymous due to legal concerns, said he uses his fake at popular locations in Chapel Hill about once a month.
“The first time, I was pretty nervous. But I guess once you just get sort of used to using it’s kind of easy-peasy,” he said. “They’ve always just kind of accepted it. I’ve always gone with people who are older than I am, so no one really questions anything.”
David said he feels that using a fake in a college town like Chapel Hill is almost socially acceptable.
“In the eyes of the law (it's bad), but I feel like there’s no stigma against it in Chapel Hill,” David said. “It is what it is. I don’t feel bad about (using a fake).”
The prevalence of fake IDs in a college town like Chapel Hill leads many bars and restaurants on Franklin to make sure their employees are extra vigilant in trying to spot them.
Carly Martinelli, a server at Top of the Hill, said she has several methods to test customers who she thinks are trying to use a fake.
“One of my tricks is I always ask people when they graduated high school if I’m kind of eerie about their birthday,” she said. “If it takes them a minute to answer, you just know. Also, you ask, ‘What’s your zip code?,' or like 'What’s your address?,’ if you’re kind of unsure.”
Martinelli also said that the ID's material, seals, and state are all valuable clues in figuring out if the ID is fraudulent. She said finding a fake isn’t a fun experience for either party involved.
"It’s embarrassing too, because when you find a fake ID you don’t want to have to turn a customer down. As a server, you’re working for tips and you know automatically, right off the bat, that if you don’t serve somebody they’re not going to like you anymore,” she said.
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