Under California law, it is a crime to impersonate peace officers. Police officers possess a great deal of power and authority when compared to private citizens. Such authority can be a powerful tool to intimidate someone or to make the person comply with their will. This can sometimes compel a person to impersonate an officer.
Something like tacking on an officer's badge with the intent to briefly fool someone into thinking you are a police officer could be construed as a serious offense. Even if no one is harmed in the course of impersonating a police officer, it is still a criminal offense.
What Are the Penalties for Impersonating a Police Officer?
Under California Penal Code 538d PC, impersonation of a police officer is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000.
However, there are more substantial penalties for those who sell badges to those who may impersonate an officer. Selling fake badges is an offense punishable by a fine of up to $15,000. Selling related items, other than a badge, to those seeking to impersonate an officer, is only subject to a $2,000 fine and 6-month maximum prison term.
There is not always a clear line as to what constitutes impersonation and what does not. A person may not have intended to commit the crime they've been perceived as committing. This is why expert legal counsel is indispensable, so that your attorney may clarify these issues and possibly argue that you were the victim of misconception.
If you are convicted of impersonating a police officer, you are advised to contact a California criminal defense attorney who has experience implementing successful defense strategies in similar cases.
What is Considered Police Impersonation in California?
Any person who wears, exhibits, or uses the authorized uniform, insignia, emblem, device, label, certificate, card, or writing, of a peace officer, may be charged with impersonation. It is immaterial whether the suspect made any false arrests or otherwise hassled citizens on the pretense of being a policeman. Where the law is considered, it only matters whether the person intentionally donned police attire in order fraudulently present themselves as a peace officer and deceive others.
As mentioned, it is a more serious offense when someone specifically manufactures and sells a badge to someone who intends to fraudulently present themselves as a police officer. Exhibiting a badge, even in the absence of any other indication that the person is an officer, is illegal in California.
Although there are lawful vendors of law enforcement uniforms, they are required to verify their customer's employment with a law enforcement agency. If they do not, they are subject to a maximum $1,000 fine. It is not considered police impersonation if the badge, uniform or other material indicative of police status is meant solely to be used in a motion picture, television or theatrical production, with the written permission of the law enforcement agency they are presenting in the production.
Similarly, a person who dresses in costume as a cop is not guilty of impersonation unless they expressly identify themselves or convey to others that they are a legitimate police officer. This must be their intent, as construed by their actions and the testimony of witnesses, where applicable. It is likewise illegal for a legitimate law enforcement officer to loan out or sell their badge to a non-officer who intends to present themselves as a police officer.
Even if the alleged impersonators intent was to deter crime by impersonating an officer, they are still guilty of the offense and will potentially be punished under PC 538d. Good intentions to exempt a person from being held accountable under this provision.
Legal Defenses to Impersonation of Police Officer
The primary element the prosecutor must prove in order to convict you on a charge of impersonating an officer is to show your intent to do so. In the absence of intent, you were just a person holding a badge or wearing a cop costume. Intent is critical in the construction of guilt for this offense.
If someone was playing a joke on a friend or is an antique collector interested in badges and insignia, this is not a crime and you cannot be convicted. Your lawyer would attempt to show that you lacked intent in accordance with the details and nature of your case.
East Bay Criminal Defense Attorney
With fines, imprisonment, and probation looming in the midst of your charge, you may be worried about how to proceed with having been charged with impersonating a police officer. The good news is that with a strong defense, you can see your charges reduced or dismissed.
East Bay criminal defense attorney Lynn Gorelick is equipped with over 30 years of legal experience, fighting tirelessly to defend Californians against the criminal charges that threaten to derail aspects of their life or livelihood. If you have been charged with impersonating a peace officer in California, immediately contact criminal defense attorney Lynn Gorelick to handle your charges. She will represent you with integrity and resolve, fighting to protect your rights and obtain the best possible in your police impersonation case.