Most states have laws that make it a crime to impersonate someone else, mainly when conducting business or performing government functions.
But when that impersonation extends to pretending to be a federal officer, agent, or employee, it becomes a federal crime. This is because people's trust in government hinges partly on interactions with the people who represent the government, and false impersonation at that level impacts public trust.
Specifically, suppose you are accused of impersonating a federal agent, officer, or employee and making an arrest or conducting an illegal search. In that case, you could be charged with a federal crime under Title 18 U.S.C. 913. if you're convicted, you could face up to three years in prison and significant fines.
18 U.S. Code 913 says, “Whoever falsely represents themselves to be an officer, agent, or employee of the United States, and in such assumed character arrests or detains anyone or in any manner searches the person, buildings, or other property of another person, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.”
Understanding what a federal prosecutor must prove if you are accused of false impersonation is essential. Violations of this statute carry harsh penalties.
You will need to retain a federal criminal defense lawyer with experience handling these cases, as not all attorneys are qualified to handle federal issues.
Perhaps we have the evidence to establish a solid legal defense, or we can cast reasonable doubt. Maybe we can negotiate a favorable plea agreement if guilt is not in doubt. Let's examine this law in more detail below.
Overview of 18 U.S.C. 913
While other federal crimes involve impersonation (see "related offenses" below), 18 U.S.C. 913 addresses the crime of illegal arrest or search while impersonating a federal official.
As noted above, the specific text includes "Whoever falsely represents himself to be an officer, agent, or employee of the United States.” To convict you of this federal crime, the prosecution must prove two things beyond a reasonable doubt.
First, you falsely impersonated a federal employee. This means that you pretended to be someone you're not. It's not enough to dress like a federal agent or wear a badge. The government must show that you took specific steps to convince others that you were a federal employee.
Second, you are arrested or searched while impersonating a federal employee. A "search" may involve searching the person directly and physically, searching their home or office, or searching any other property the person holds. This is an essential element of the crime; you cannot be convicted without it.
It's important to note that the government does not have to prove that you intended to violate anyone's rights when you made the arrest or conducted the search. All that is required is that you made an arrest or searched someone (or something) while falsely impersonating a federal employee.
What are the penalties for violating 18 U.S.C. 913? Conducting an illegal arrest or search while posing as a federal agent, officer, or employee is a felony offense. If you are convicted, the maximum penalty per offense is:
- three years in prison, and
- a fine of up to $10,000.
What Are the Related Offenses?
There are several federal laws criminalizing impersonation, and in some cases, you may face charges for violating more than one of these laws along with 18 U.S.C. 913. These related offenses are listed under 18 U.S. Code Chapter 43:
- Falsely impersonating a citizen of the United States (18 U.S.C. 911). Simply posing as a U.S. citizen when you aren't one is a federal crime punishable by up to 3 years in prison;
- Falsely impersonating an officer or employee of the United States (18 U.S.C. 912). Like 18 U.S.C. 913, this crime involves pretending to be a federal agent, officer, or employee and demanding money, documents, or property of any value while posing. A conviction carries a fine and three years imprisonment;
- Falsely impersonating a creditor of the United States (18 U.S.C. 914). This federal crime involves impersonating a lawful holder of U.S. debt (e.g., public stocks, dividends, pensions, annuities, etc.) and attempting to collect money from the U.S. on those pretenses. If convicted of this offense, a defendant could face up to five years of imprisonment;
- Foreign diplomats, consuls, or officers (18 U.S.C. 915). A defendant could be convicted of violating this federal statute by pretending to be a diplomat, consul, or another foreign government official who demands or tries to obtain money, papers, documents, or something of value. A conviction carries a maximum penalty of 10 years;
- 4–H Club members or agents (18 U.S.C. 916), If convicted of violating this federal law, the penalties are just six months in prison;
- Red Cross members or agents (18 U.S.C. 917). If convicted of violating this federal statute, the penalties include up to five years in prison.
What Are the Defenses Against Impersonators Making Arrest or Search?
Most legal defenses to criminal charges under 18 U.S.C. 913 have to do with refuting or casting doubt on the two critical elements required to procure a conviction. Specifically, your attorney may argue one or both of the defenses listed below.
Perhaps we can argue that you were not impersonating a federal employee. Prosecutors must show that they took specific steps to convince others that they were an agent, officer, or employee of the U.S. Government. If you did not do this, you have a defense to the charge.
Perhaps an argument could be made that you did not detain anyone or conduct a search. The government must show that you detained someone or searched a person or property while falsely impersonating a federal employee. If you did not do this, you have a defense to the charge.
Perhaps negotiation with the federal prosecutor can reach a favorable resolution to the charges. It would help if you had a defense lawyer familiar with federal criminal charges and procedures. The prosecutor has to burden proof beyond any reasonable doubt.
For an initial case consultation and to discuss legal options moving forward, contact us by phone or fill out the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, California. We provide legal representation across the United States for federal criminal issues.