According to 18 U.S. Code § 912 – Officer or employee of the United States, “Whoever falsely assumes or pretends to be an officer or employee acting under the authority of the United States or any department, agency or officer thereof, and acts as such, or in such pretended character demands or obtains any money, paper, document, or thing of value, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.”
Police impersonation is what happens when someone attempts to impersonate a cop. This may be done through:
- Dressing like a police officer, such as in a police uniform;
- Using flashing lights on your vehicle, more specifically red and blue flashing lights, as many states also consider it to be a crime to use equipment that is used by law enforcement officers;
- Using a counterfeit or stolen badge;
- Flashing a fake police badge; or
- Simply leading somebody to believe that you are an officer of the law.
Police impersonation is considered to be illegal due to the fact that influencing a civilian to believe that you are a police officer breaks public trust in law enforcement authorities. Because police officers are entrusted with a considerable amount of power and discretion, the general public takes their authority very seriously. As such, impersonating a police officer in order to control people, or get financial or other criminal gains, will result in serious consequences.
While it is a crime to impersonate a police officer, a federal officer or employee, or any other public official, the laws vary from state to state, such as red and blue flashing lights. Additionally, possession of a firearm can further enhance the penalty for false impersonation of a police officer.
Is It Illegal to Dress Up as a Cop?
Posing as a cop, or dressing up as a police officer, is generally considered to be illegal under considerably specific circumstances. So long as you do not use an actual uniform or badge, or take on any actual or traditional police duties, it is not generally considered to be illegal. This is largely due to the fact that most people can tell the difference between a real cop, and somebody who is dressed up as a cop, such as for Halloween.
However, if your costume is convincing enough to cause people to question whether or not it is authentic, you could face legal trouble. In a similar vein, if you are dressed as a cop for a costume party, you should avoid carrying out any police duties that would be considered official. Doing so could result in your getting arrested and charged with impersonating a police officer.
Identity theft is an additional charge that is frequently associated with specific police impersonation cases. This is especially true if you are impersonating a specific police officer, such as going by a specific police officer’s name. Assuming another person’s identity for financial or other types of gains is legally defined as being identity theft. Additionally, if that person is a cop, you are also impersonating a police officer.
These additional charges of identity theft can increase the potential amount of time that you would be incarcerated if you were convicted. As such, if you are facing police impersonation charges and/or identity theft charges, you should consult with a skilled criminal defense attorney as soon as possible regarding your case.
What Are the Charges and Penalties for Impersonating a Police Officer?
To reiterate, state laws vary in terms of the charges and penalties for impersonating a police officer. Depending on state law, an impersonating a police officer charge may be considered as either a felony or a misdemeanor.
As such, impersonating a police officer penalties generally include, but may not be limited to:
- Imprisonment of up to five years, sometimes more depending on other contributing factors;
- Criminal fines, generally around $1,000;
- Probation; and
- An account of the charge placed on your permanent criminal record.
Impersonating a federal agent is another, similar charge. A federal agent is a person who works for a government agency, such as the FBI or the DEA. Impersonating a federal agent in order to receive some advantage, or to deceive other people by giving false reports, is considered to be a specific intent crime. The federal government defines impersonating a federal agent as falsely pretending or assuming to be an employee or officer who is acting under the authority of the United States, agency, or department.
The federal statute requires that a person who is arrested for impersonating a federal agent must either demand and/or obtain:
- Documents; and/or
- Anything else of value.
A person who is convicted of impersonating a federal agent may receive a criminal fine, and up to three years in a federal prison.
It is still considered to be a crime if the impersonator pretended to be a federal agent in order to perform a search:
- On a person;
- In a building or other property; and/or
- Of a person’s property.
The impersonator could receive up to three years in prison, as well as a criminal fine.
To reiterate, the penalty for impersonating a police officer varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. An example of this would be how in Texas, impersonating a public servant with the intent to cause someone to submit to their authority is considered to be a crime. Punishment for impersonating a police officer largely depends on whether the crime is a felony or a misdemeanor.
How Can I Prepare For A Strong Criminal Case?
Impersonating a police officer is addressed by criminal law. Criminal law is designed to address and punish behavior that is considered to be an offense against society, the state, and/or the public. This remains true even if the victim is an individual person. If a person is convicted of a crime, they may be forced to pay considerably high criminal fines, and could lose their personal freedom by being sentenced to jail or prison time.
But no matter whether someone is being charged with a serious or a minor crime, the accused still has the right to a trial. Additionally, there are other legal protections that are afforded to all American citizens. While every state has its own set of criminal laws, there are certain Constitutional rights that apply to every defendant, no matter what that crime is or where it happened. These rights include:
- The Right to a Speedy Trial: The Sixth Amendment guarantees a criminal defendant the right to a speedy trial. This is intended to prevent an accused person from being kept in jail for extended amounts of time without adjudication;
- The Right to a Jury: The same Amendment also guarantees the right to a trial by jury. Many jurisdictions will allow a criminal defendant to waive a jury in favor of a bench trial, in which guilt is determined by a judge and not a jury. However, this is to be the defendant’s choice only; no one else who is involved in the case may make this decision. Additionally, this right is universal with criminal prosecution only, as civil trials have their own rules which govern jury rights;
- Miranda Rights: The result of a famous Supreme Court case, Miranda rights give the criminal defendant access to an attorney whether or not they can afford one, in order to aid in their defense; and
- Protection Against Self-Incrimination: Also known as “pleading the fifth,” this is a Constitutional protection stating that a defendant cannot be forced to testify against their own interest.
When retaining a criminal defense attorney, you will need to first complete a legal consultation, which is an initial meeting with an attorney. This meeting takes place before you decide whether to hire that attorney to represent you in your particular legal matter. The attorney will also use the consultation to determine whether they can legally and competently represent you, based on the information that you provide during the consultation.
It is important to note that an initial legal consultation does not mean that the attorney is officially representing you, nor have they agreed to take your case. Generally speaking, in order for an attorney to legally represent you, there must be a written representation agreement that is signed by both you and the attorney. Otherwise, you must be able to prove that through their words or actions, the attorney has consented to representing you.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Impersonating a Police Officer Charges?
If you have been charged with impersonating a police officer, an experienced criminal defense attorney can advise you of your legal rights and defenses under your state’s specific laws. Additionally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.