Do Police Need to Identify Themselves When You Ask in California?

June 07, 2022 by Madison Ferguson in California  Rights  
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Undercover Police in California

If you ask most individuals this question, chances are, they would probably say yes. A surprisingly large number of people all over the country believe that police are supposed to identify themselves whenever you ask them. However, this could not be further from the truth.

Generally speaking, police officers have no legal obligation to identify themselves or the agencies they are affiliated with, even if you ask them directly.

Even though some specific municipalities require police officers to disclose their identities in public, to date, there is no federal statute that demands law enforcement officers identify themselves to the general public when asked.

While a police officer in uniform refusing to identify themselves is not usually such a big deal since the police uniform is a dead giveaway. However, things get more complicated when the police officer is dressed in plain clothes. Law enforcement officers wearing plain clothes are only obligated to reveal their identity when they are using their police powers.

Thus, a police officer can legally lie about their identity when wearing plain clothes, which is quite common when a police officer is going undercover to run a sting operation.

Shouldn’t This Count As Entrapment?

If you end up being charged for a crime after you were arrested by a police officer who did not disclose their identity to you, shouldn’t that count as entrapment? Well, that will depend on the circumstances of your arrest.

What Is Considered Entrapment in California?

Entrapment refers to a situation where law enforcement coerces or induces a normally law-abiding citizen they would not have originally committed. In some cases, an accused can use this as a defense to get their charges dropped or dismissed.

However, for entrapment to work, the police officer needs to apply pressure, harassment, threats, flattery, or fraud to coerce an individual to commit a crime. A police officer simply giving you the opportunity to commit a crime does not count as entrapment. Thus, if a police officer simply asks the accused to do something illegal while hiding their identity, then arrests them, it should not count as entrapment. Nonetheless, if the police officer, while hiding their identity relentlessly begs, intimidates, or threatens an individual into committing a crime, then arrests them this can count as entrapment.

Here are two situations that can help you understand whether a police officer refusing to reveal their identity counts as entrapment or not:

  • Case 1: Laura is an undercover cop trying to catch individuals for prostitute solicitation. She sees John walking down the street and offers him the “night of his life” for $100. John immediately asks Laura if she is a cop, and she says no. So John agrees to go with Laura and gives her the $100. Before John realizes it, he is in handcuffs and being charged for solicitation of a prostitute under California Penal Code 647(b).

In this case, John cannot use entrapment as a defense since the undercover cop did not reveal their identity. They did not use any overbearing conduct to cause John to commit the crime. They simply offered the opportunity, and the accused took it with no resistance.

  • Case 2: The same undercover officer, Laura, is still trying to catch the culprits of prostitute solicitation. This time she approaches a man named Matt, who is walking down the street. She offers him a “good time” in exchange for $100, but he declines. Nevertheless, Laura follows Matt telling him he will not regret his decision because she is the best in the business. Matt keeps saying no and asks Laura if she is a cop. She says no and keeps following Matt, relentlessly insisting he takes her offer. Eventually, after several minutes, she wears him down, and he accepts. Almost immediately, Matt finds himself in handcuffs charged with the solicitation of a prostitute.

In this case, Matt can claim entrapment as a defense since the incognito relentlessly pressured him to take up his offer and commit a crime.

Thus, always remember that a police officer in plain clothes does not have to disclose their identity. They can even lie about it if they are running a sting operation.

Were You a Victim of Entrapment in California?

Therefore, if you get into trouble with a police officer while they are hiding their identity, do not hesitate to contact our law firm. We can help you recognize whether it was unreasonable for the police officer to conceal their identity leading to your entrapment.

Need an Attorney? CALL NOW: 310-274-6529

Seppi Esfandi is an Expert Attorney who has over 21 years of practice defending a variety of cases.

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Lara S.
December 3, 2019
Seppi had my case reduced to just an infraction, and thanks to him I was able to keep my job. Jorge was extremely helpful too, the reason I went with this law firm. Overall pleased.

How to Win Your Case

We cannot stress enough that you read, understand and follow these 10 basic rules if you are criminally charged or under investigation:

  1. Don’t ever talk to the police
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  4. Tell police you need to contact your attorney
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  6. If the police knock on your door, don't answer!
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  8. Your lawyer (not you) will contact any witnesses
  9. Information on your cell phone is evidence
  10. Early Intervention is the key

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