Impersonating, or falsely portraying yourself as, a police officer is a crime in Nevada and can carry with it some serious penalties.
What kinds of actions are considered “impersonating” a police officer?
The definition of “Impersonating a Police Officer” is found in Nevada Revised Statutes 199.430, which states:
Every person who shall falsely personate a public officer, civil or military, or a police officer, or a private individual having special authority by law to perform an act affecting the rights or interests of another, or who, without authority shall assume any uniform or badge by which such an officer or person is lawfully distinguished, and in such assumed character shall do any act purporting to be official, whereby another is injured or defrauded shall be guilty of a gross misdemeanor.
There are, essentially, three parts to this statute, the “who,” referring to who can be charged with the crime, “what,” referring to what actions are considered illegal, and “how,” referring to how the crime is charged.
Okay, “who” can be charged?
This is an all-encompassing crime, meaning that anyone who is not an officer, as it is defined in the statute, can be charged with the crime.
Then what is the definition of an “officer”?
As it pertains to the impersonation of an officer, an “officer” is “a public officer, civil or military, or a police officer, or a private individual having special authority by law to perform an act affecting the rights or interests of another…” Clearly, the definition of the term “officer” is both extremely important to the statute and overly inclusive. There are obviously a great many ways that someone can be defined as an officer:
- A public officer, civil or military – This refers to anyone working in an official capacity for the government or for the military.
- A police officer – While it may seem fairly obvious, it is still important to understand that this refers to any officer of any form of law enforcement (Sheriff, Marshall, Highway Patrol, etc.).
- Private individual having special authority by law to perform an act affecting the rights or interests of another – Although this sounds a little vague, it basically refers to any person who has legal authority to detain you, search you, or in any other way affect your rights. The most obvious example of this is security guards, both for private individuals and for retail stores.
Okay, so what does someone have to do to “impersonate” an officer?
The “what” of NRS 199.430 is fairly easy to understand, despite how confusing the language is.
Anyone who “falsely personate[s]… or who, without authority shall assume any uniform or badge by which such an officer or person is lawfully distinguished, and in such assumed character shall do any act purporting to be official, whereby another is injured or defrauded…” is guilty of “Officer Impersonation.”
What is especially important to notice about this language is that there are essentially two ways to impersonate an officer: falsely personate, and assuming any uniform or badge by which such an officer is distinguished.
- Falsely Personate – Falsely personating an officer means that you give someone the impression, or allow someone to believe, that you are an officer. This is an intentionally broad definition, so long as someone believes that you are an officer, then the prosecution can charge you with “officer impersonation.”
- Assume any uniform or badge… – Here, the statute is referring to impersonating an officer in appearance, instead of through conduct. Specifically, wearing a uniform or wearing or carrying a badge that gives others the impression that you are an officer.
In other words, if you do anything to give others the impression that you are an officer, then you have violated NRS 199.430.
What is the “how” that you referred to earlier?
In this case, the “how” refers to how the “what” part of the statute applies to the “who” part of the statute. It is codified in the last part of the statute: “whereby another is injured or defrauded shall be guilty of a gross misdemeanor.” In other words, all of the conduct that is described as “officer impersonation,” only applies to people who are not officers if the conduct causes another person to be injured or defrauded.
As is often the case with statutory language, this is intentionally vague. So long as someone is “defrauded” or “injured” by your Officer Impersonation, then the Prosecutor has the discretion to decide whether to charge you or not.
Please Note: Generally speaking, the Prosecutor will not pursue charges against you unless there is both a “defrauding” and an “injury.” In other words, even though the Prosecutor can charge you with Impersonation simply for being convincingly dressed as an officer, they most likely will not unless you use that appearance as a way to either benefit yourself, or to disadvantage someone else. This is why someone dressed as an officer for a costume party is only going to be prosecuted for impersonation if they actually hold themselves out to be an officer and attempt to perform some sort of official function.
What kind of penalties am I facing if I’ve been charged with Officer Impersonation?
As you may have noticed, the statute makes officer impersonation a gross misdemeanor in Nevada. This means that if you are convicted of Officer Impersonation, then you will be facing:
- Up to 364 days in jail; and/or
- Up to $2,000.00 in fines.
Please Note: Depending on what kind of harm was inflicted by your impersonation of an officer, the Judge may also order that you pay restitution to the person, or people, that were defrauded by your impersonation.
Are there any defenses to Officer Impersonation?
Of course, there are defenses. As with any crime, the exact defenses will depend on the specific facts of your case.
- Lack of Evidence – The most common defense to Officer Impersonation relies on the Prosecution’s burden to prove every element of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. If the Prosecutor does not have enough reliable evidence, then the charges against you should be dropped or dismissed.
- Police Misconduct – If any of the evidence against you was obtained through an illegal search or seizure, then that evidenceis inadmissible in court. If enough of the evidence against you is thrown out, then the Prosecutor may choose to drop or dismiss the charges against you.
What should I do if I’ve been charged with Officer Impersonation?
If you have been charged with any crime, or criminal misconduct, then you should speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An attorney will be able to candidly and confidentially speak to you about the specific facts of your case and determine what defenses may apply. Moreover, when an experienced criminal defense attorney is representing you, it shows Judges and Prosecutors that you are serious about dealing with the charges against you and you will be dealt with in a more expedient and lenient manner.