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Rachel Carpenito says she froze and didn't know what to say when a
Portland police officer asked for her identification in January when she was parked with
her date on Rocky Butte. Carpenito, then 18,
handed over the fake ID she used for drinking. She was charged with a
felony crime.

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Rachel Carpenito thought a fake ID was her passport to an exciting night on the town, instead it almost branded her as a convicted felon.

If a judge hadn't given her a break last week, Carpenito would have had to tell prospective employers, landlords and college admissions that she had a criminal record -- all because of some bad choices she made seven months ago. A few days after getting her first fake ID, she went out for drinks at a strip club with a man she had met on MySpace, then to Rocky Butte to make out.

When Portland Officer Gary Doran pulled up at 3:15 a.m., Carpenito says she panicked and tried to hide the phony California identity card. But it was too late. The officer asked for her ID and the 18-year-old turned it over.

When Doran couldn't find the name in his computer, he came back and asked her how to pronounce it. Carpenito confessed.

He said she stuck with her fake name for 30 minutes; she says it was more like 15.

Next thing Carpenito knew, she was handcuffed, taken to jail, fingerprinted and photographed for a mug shot. The young woman, who had never been in trouble with the law, was charged with two crimes: misdemeanor providing false information to police and felony possession of a fictitious ID.

Six years ago, the Legislature created the fictitious ID law to crack down on thieves. Former State Rep. Tim Knopp, who sponsored the law, said it wasn't intended to penalize underage drinkers, but the prosecutor in Carpenito's case said the young woman used the forged ID to get away with a crime.

After a two-day trial last month, a Multnomah County jury acquitted her of lying to a police officer but voted 10-2 to find her guilty of possessing a fake ID. Two jurors interviewed afterwards were surprised to learn that the latter crime was a felony, something they were not allowed to hear during the trial.

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Defense attorney Thaddeus Betz had argued that it's not illegal to lie to a police officer if you haven't done anything wrong. In order for the teen to be guilty, she would have had to lie in an attempt to avoid being charged with another crime.

Carpenito's initial crime? It was littering, the officer testified. Doran, who has been with the bureau for 2 1/2 years, said he approached the car because it was parked after hours. He also suspected the couple inside of prostitution, but when Carpenito stepped out of the car, he said she tossed a tissue or a rag on the ground.

"I noticed when the rag fell to the ground, that was something I could slap her for," Doran testified.

And in order for Carpenito to be guilty of the second charge -- possession of a bogus ID -- the teenager would have to intend to commit a crime with it. (State statutes specifically say having a fake ID to buy booze doesn't fall under this crime, but it is listed as a misdemeanor under another statute).

She denied throwing anything on the ground but conceded something could have fallen out when she opened the door. The man's car was cluttered.

The defense attorney said the officer didn't collect a tissue into evidence or take a photograph of it. He didn't ticket her for it either. He also didn't tell the teen that he was asking for her ID to ticket her for littering.

A plea for leniency
At Carpenito's sentencing hearing last Friday, Betz asked the judge to reduce the felony to a misdemeanor, arguing that Carpenito is not the hardened ID thief the law was intended to go after. He said Carpenito was a 2008 Franklin High School graduate, and a felony conviction could irrevocably mar her future.

"We need to take into account that this is a person ... who was 18 years old at the time and frightened."

Deputy District Attorney Robin Skarstad, however, argued for a felony conviction, saying Carpenito could ask the court later to have it reduced to a misdemeanor after completing community service. Skarstad called that "a carrot," to discourage the young woman from a life that had included such behavior as meeting a man on MySpace, going to a strip club and underage drinking.

Skarstad said Carpenito wasted police resources and didn't seem remorseful. She also was disturbed by Carpenito's attitude. During the trial, the officer testified that the young woman had bragged about using her looks to get a fake ID for free.

When it was Carpenito's turn to speak, she broke down in tears and apologized if it appeared that she wasn't taking the case seriously.

"If I have to do something in a field where I have to be respected," Carpenito testified, "I don't want this to be on my record. ... I promise you, you won't see me again."

Judge Jerry Hodson was swayed by Carpenito's plea. He said he, too, was put off by her previous demeanor during the trial, but that he could tell now that she'd been "humbled."

Although carrying around a fake ID for drinking may be popular among her peers, the judge told Carpenito "when it comes to the point of law enforcement, it rises to a whole different level."

Hodson convicted Carpenito of a misdemeanor, then sentenced her to one year of bench probation, 100 hours of community service and about $300 in fines and fees.

Carpenito and her teary-eyed mother, who was sitting in the front row, let out sighs of relief.

Lisa Carpenito said she doesn't approve of her daughter's actions that night, but the penalty her daughter nearly received seemed too severe.

"This could have just really wrecked her life," Lisa Carpenito said.

Rachel Carpenito said she wants other young people to know the problems that can spiral from owning a fake ID.

"Don't do the fake ID," she said. "Seven months of this wasn't worth it."

Aimee Green; [email protected]