What the Law Says About Police Impersonation

What are the Consequences of Impersonating a Police Officer?

Citizens have to put a lot of trust in law enforcement. Police officers are employed to ensure that citizens follow the laws of the state, and as such, wield a great deal of power over everyday people. 

Unfortunately, sometimes wrongdoers attempt to capitalize on this power and abuse it. Impersonating a police officer is illegal in all fifty states, but cases of police impersonation still happen.

What could happen to an individual if they were charged with the crime of impersonating a member of the police force? Read on and we’ll walk you through everything you should be aware of. 

What the Law Says About Police Impersonation

The exact language of the law in each state of the US may vary slightly in terms of how they define the impersonation of a police officer. In a broad sense, however, the laws all work in mostly the same way. 

A ‘police officer’ in the context of this criminal act could be any figure of authority similar to an officer of the law. This includes posing as plainclothes officers of the FBI, DEA, secret service, or some other arm of the law. 

A person can be convicted of this crime if they verbally identify themselves to another person as an officer of the law. False representation as an officer is completely illegal, no matter the context. 

An individual who wears police articles of clothing, including uniforms, IDs, patches, or buttons as a form of impersonation can be convicted of this crime as well. It doesn’t matter whether these items are true portions of an official uniform or simply imitations. It is the intent that matters. 

Similarly, any actions taken to indicate one’s vehicle is a police vehicle are strictly prohibited by law as well. That would include putting any sort of similar light atop a vehicle or to use a siren sound. Using these tools to pull a person over or to force them to yield is considered against the law.

The state of North Carolina also outlines the specific actions that a person might be convicted for ordering people to move from one location to another, detaining individuals, and searching a vehicle or premises while impersonating as a police officer.

What About Costumes?

People often wonder about the legality of dressing up like an officer for entertainment purposes, such as a costume party.

An individual should ensure that their outfit is not authentic enough to have someone truly believe they are an officer. They should also not use their outfit to take advantage of any individual or claim authority. A person should not verbally identify themselves to anyone as a real officer. 

If a person avoids these things, threat of an impersonation charge should be non-existent.

Potential Punishments for Impersonation

In most states including North Carolina, the act of impersonating a police officer is considered a misdemeanor. There are some serious consequences that one might face if they are charged with this misdemeanor crime.

According to the statutes and codes in most states, a person convicted of this sort of crime could spend up to two years behind bars. That’s quite a lengthy amount of time. The individual in question might also have to face a penalty which could be as high as $2,000.

In certain situations, an individual charged will have to do both of these things. In other cases, if a situation was particularly ill-minded, the law might see the case under the guise of a felony charge as opposed to a misdemeanor. 

For example, if any weapons were involved in one’s actions during impersonation, you can expect an upgrade to a felony charge. Felony charges could force someone to spend up to five years behind bars and face even more severe penalty fees.

These penalties can be quite harsh depending on a judge’s verdict. It’s important for a person convicted of this sort of crime to find an attorney to help mitigate potential charges.

In order to better work with an attorney, it can be equally essential to ensure you can pay the bail amount and work freely leading up to your trial date.

Defenses for Police Impersonation

It is important that the citizens of the United States can put trust in the authority of state law enforcement officials. As such, this kind of crime can be taken very seriously. If one hopes to avoid charges, it’s important to have a very good defense prepared.

One element that is strongly considered when determining the severity of charges is the purpose of the person’s impersonation. If a person impersonated an officer with no intent to manipulate or deceive another person, it’s likely that their charges will be fairly lenient.

Those who impersonated an officer in order to abuse, threaten, steal, or take any number of other advantageous actions have a much more difficult legal road ahead of themselves.

Most defenses then usually center around the idea of the individual having a lack of intent to deceive or gain an advantage. It’s important that an individual give themselves time to talk to and properly plan with an attorney before trial so that a good defense can be landed on.

Penalities for Impersonating a Police Officer

No matter where in the U.S. you live, impersonating a police officer is considered a very serious crime. The above information can break down what penalties one might face for this kind of action.