The common misconception that an undercover officer must identify himself is often played out in movies involving a big undercover sting, or in simple encounters like our video highlights. A common undercover operation involves prostitution stings where the police pose as customers and then arrest prostitutes as soon as there is talk of sex. The prostitute goes to court and claims that the officer never identified himself and therefore she cannot be guilty. Unfortunately even if asked directly, an officer is under no legal obligation to blow their cover.
Courts have repeatedly upheld that police officers are under no obligation to identify that they are police officers even if you ask them. If you find yourself in a situation like the video, you should assume the person you are dealing with is an officer. Even if you ask if they are an officer, be aware that the answer you are getting may not be true.
Law enforcement officers often lie in order to make an arrest in undercover operations. Police can, will, and often do lie, especially if it helps them make arrests. Like the video illustrates, the obvious example of this is when undercover officers claim not to be police.
The supreme court in Frazier v. Cupp, 394 U.S. 731, 1969 upheld that police could lie during an investigation as long as it does not shock the conscience of the court or community. The case involved the interrogation of a homicide suspect who was told during the course of the investigation that an accomplice had pointed the finger at the suspect causing the suspect to confess. In fact, the police had been lying to the suspect in order to trick him in to confessing. Since this landmark ruling courts have continued to uphold investigations where police officers lied to suspects.
Although officers do not have to identify themselves, they may not coerce someone into committing an offense that he/she was not predisposed to committing. The defense of entrapment arises when a person is induced or persuaded by law enforcement to commit a crime that he had no previous intent to commit. If there is doubt whether the person had any intent to commit the crime except for inducement or persuasion by the police then the person is not guilty of the crime charged. Typically for an entrapment defense to prevail it must be shown that the idea for committing the crime came from the police and not the person accused of the crime. Secondly it must be shown that the police persuaded the person into committing the crime. Lastly, it must be shown that the person was not ready and willing to commit the crime before the police spoke with him.
The rules regarding entrapment are usually in favor of law-enforcement, so police won’t hesitate to trick you into incriminating yourself or others. The best defense against manipulative police tactics is to avoid saying anything or doing anything if you suspect someone is an undercover officer, and without first speaking with an attorney.