Do undercover police officers need to identify themselves?
We’ve all seen movies and TV programs where a police officer is working some sort of deep cover in a gang, and when things start to go bad for the gang the leader realizes that there’s a cop in their midst. One by one, the gang leader goes to each individual member and asks them “Are you a cop?” The tension always builds as the hero cop needs to find a way of causing a distraction before they get to him, because if asked, he HAS to identify himself as a cop.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but like a lot of things in Hollywood this is a completely made up movie myth. Real undercover police officers are under no obligation to identify themselves as being cops. For starters, that would lead to a lot of dead police officers, because a lot of people that you would need an undercover officer to help arrest really aren’t going to think twice about murdering a police officer.
We see this pretty regularly with clients who are arrested on charges relating to prostitution. People will post ads on various internet services, and a fairly common thing to see as part of the ad is a statement that says “by contacting me, you agree that you aren’t affiliated with any law enforcement agency and that violating this agreement represents entrapment.” This is not going to protect you from anything.
First, as we mentioned a few moments ago, undercover police officers don’t have to identify themselves as such until they decide to put the handcuffs on you. You aren’t going to get much credibility with a jury if you tell them that you DID engage in illegal activities, but your arrest should be thrown out because the police officer lied to you. Second, an undercover officer arresting you after lying to you about being an undercover cop doesn’t actually represent entrapment. We’ll talk about entrapment in greater detail in another post, but to quickly explain it “entrapment” means that the police forced or otherwise caused you to commit a crime that you otherwise wouldn’t have but-for the police convincing you to do it. If you were already going to engage in the illegal activity that got you arrested by the undercover officer because you had the misfortune of doing it with an undercover, that’s not entrapment. Entrapment requires proving that you weren’t going to engage in the illegal act in the first place.
Now, even though they can lie to you about whether they’re cops, the fact of the matter is that they still ARE police officers. If their conduct while operating as an undercover officer is so extreme that it constitutes “outrageous behavior”, you may still have defenses available to you at trial. Determining whether an undercover officer’s behavior meets that definition is a fact sensitive issue, and is best discussed with your attorney.
At Razumich & Associates, our goal is to make sure that each of our clients receives the personalized attention that their cases deserve so that they can make the best possible decisions on important matters affecting their future. We personally meet with everyone who sets an appointment with our office, and we will take as long as necessary to make sure that every question you have is answered as completely as possible. That’s our promise to you: we’re Lawyers Ready to Fight, and we look forward to fighting for you.