South Carolina Criminal Code 16-17-720: Impersonating Law Enforcement Officer
Impersonation of a Law Enforcement Officer is set forth in South Carolina Criminal Laws (Criminal Code) § 16-17-720.
Criminal charges involve allegations the Defendant represented him or herself as a law enforcement officer to another person and acting in accordance with that representation.
It is important to understand that being charged with a crime is not the same as being convicted.
The legal standard for a charge differs from that necessarily for a conviction.
Probable cause is required to arrest or formally “charge” the accused. While related, it is separate and distinct from “reasonable suspicion.”
Probable cause involves allegations sufficient to meet constitutional protections against a false arrest or false accusations.
Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is a higher legal standard than either reasonable suspicion or probable cause. It’s the highest legal standard or “burden” of proof and is necessary to be convicted.
The prosecuting attorney (the “Solicitor” in South Carolina) carries the Burden of Proof on behalf of the “State.” The person accused of criminal charges carries no burden of proof or burden of production.
To convict a Defendant of Impersonating a Law-Enforcement Officer in South Carolina, the Solicitor’s office must generally prove the following elements:
- The Defendant represented themselves as being a Law Enforcement Officer
- To another person
- And acted upon that representation in any way
Acting upon the representation of being a Law Enforcement Officer includes acts such as using a vehicle that is modified to resemble a patrol car, arresting another person, detaining another person, searching a vehicle or residence, etc.1. Examples of Impersonating a Law-Enforcement Officer
The Defendant is driving on Highway 521 in Lancaster County. The Defendant is in a Chevrolet Tahoe and pulls behind another car. The Defendant then uses flashing red and blue lights he purchased on eBay. In response to the “emergency equipment,” the other vehicle pulls over. The Defendant informs the other driver that a taillight is out and asks to see their SC driver’s license and registration as issued by SCDMV. The Defendant tells the other driver to get the taillight fixed and leaves. The driver is suspicious of the encounter and calls 911. The Defendant upon being questioned by police gives a statement saying, “It was a citizen’s arrest. Anyone who seeks a criminal law being broken can act as a law enforcement officer.” That is most certainly not the law in South Carolina. The Defendant may be charged with Impersonation of a Law Enforcement Officer in SC, a Class C Misdemeanor criminal charge.
A York County Sheriff Deputy sees a Chevrolet Malibu flashing blue lights and attempting to pull over a speeding motorcycle for reckless driving. The Deputy conducts a safety check on the “traffic stop.” When the Deputy approaches the patrol car, the Defendant has a badge around his neck, handgun on his waist band, and says that he is a Federal Agent. The Deputy decides to look into the Defendant and discovers that he is not a law enforcement officer. The Defendant may be charged with Impersonation of a Law Enforcement Officer in South Carolina.
The Defendant knocks on another person’s front door and identifies himself as an investigator with the State Bureau of Investigation or “SBI.” The homeowner doesn’t answer the door. The Defendant knocks on the door again and states that he will obtain an arrest warrant if the door isn’t answered. The homeowner still refuses to answer the door. The Defendant finally leaves and announces that he will be back with an arrest warrant. The Defendant, identified from the homeowner’s ring device, is not a police investigator or law enforcement officer.
The Defendant witnesses a woman shoplifting from the Walmart in Tega Cay. The Defendant approaches the woman, identifies himself as an agent from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division or “SLED,” and detains the alleged shoplifter. The Defendant then notifies the store manager of the situation. The Defendant was not in fact a SLED agent or law enforcement officer. The Defendant may be arrested and charged with Impersonation of a Law Enforcement Officer. It is a misdemeanor charge in South Carolina.2. Related SC Criminal Laws and Charges
Other related statutes and offenses include:
- SC Code § 16-17-720: Impersonating a Law-Enforcement Officer
- SC Code §56-5-750: Failure to Stop for Blue Lights
- Disorderly Conduct in South Carolina
- What to do if you’ve been arrested
- Carolina Burdens of Proof
In order to determine the best defense for your case, you should consult with experienced legal counsel. Common defenses include mistaken identity, mistake of fact, or if the accused is a Law Enforcement Officer.4. Consequences and Punishments for Impersonating a Law Enforcement Officer
South Carolina Code § 16-17-720 defines Impersonating a Law Enforcement Officer as a Class C Misdemeanor offense. A conviction of Impersonating a Law Enforcement Officer can result in the following consequences:
- A fine up to $500.00
- Imprisonment for up to 1 year
If you are facing criminal charges in the Upstate region of South Carolina, Powers Law Firm PA offers free and confidential consultation.
Attorney Chris Beddow is responsible for all South Carolina cases at Powers Law Firm PA. Mr. Beddow is responsible for all content on this website regarding legal matters in South Carolina.
Call now to schedule a consultation: 803-504-6686