A Police Officer Does Not Have To Tell You He’s A Cop

“Never fool with a fuzz ball.” —Carey Mahoney, Police Academy

In A Nutshell

One of the most enduring misconceptions, often perpetuated by stereotypical crime dramas, is that if you ask an undercover agent if they are a police officer they must to tell you the truth or else become guilty of entrapment. Unfortunately, this is completely untrue. For something to qualify as entrapment, it has to be a situation where you were tricked into doing something you normally wouldn’t.

The Whole Bushel

A legend that has been passed around for a long time says that a prostitute can always protect themselves legally by asking everyone if they are a cop. The idea is that if the cop says “yes,” then obviously the prostitute has saved herself with her savvy; if the cop says “no,” then the prostitute can use the entrapment defense. However, unfortunately for the prostitute, she is probably not going to get that conviction overturned, at least not on those grounds. You see, a cop doesn’t have to tell you the truth at all or there would be no point in any agent ever going undercover. All any gangs would have to do is ask everyone if they are a cop and they would be golden. The truth is that cops have to perform sting operations all the time and lying is just another part of the job.

The entrapment defense, on the other hand, presents quite a few different issues. Now, our hypothetical prostitute might decide to hire a lawyer and attempt such, but a reasonable lawyer probably would advise her against it. Popular culture has confused people deeply about what entrapment is, but the main idea is that you are induced to commit a crime you wouldn’t normally commit. This means that even if the cop approached the prostitute she can’t use the entrapment defense if she is predisposed to committing such crimes.

In the United States, entrapment is decided by two main factors. The first is that the person is not predisposed to committing that kind of crime, and the second is that the cop actually induced the person to commit the crime. Perhaps the prostitute in our story didn’t even want to, but she needed the money and was constantly badgered by the undercover officer before she gave in. For her, the entrapment defense might work. However, even if the cop badgered her for a while before she agreed, if it can be proven that she works as a prostitute on a regular basis, the entrapment defense probably wouldn’t hold water because she is “predisposed” to committing similar crimes.

Of course, this is not entirely uniform. Sometimes you will find a court that rules more based on the officers behavior during the sting operation and not so much on the defendant’s predisposition, but it’s not particularly common. To make things worse for defendants, entrapment is likely to be very difficult to prove. The fact of the matter is that if you are using entrapment as a defense, you are basically accusing an officer of misconduct and the maxim of the law is innocent until proven guilty. If you can manage to convince the court that you were pushed into committing the crime, then and only then is the burden of proof on the other side to prove that you were likely to perform such an act regardless. Also, it is rather important to note that entrapment defenses generally don’t work at all in cases of violent crime, no matter what the inducement involved.

Show Me The Proof

National Paralegal College: Entrapment
Snopes: Are You A Cop?

  • Joseph

    Do I have to tell people I’m a time lord?

    • Hillyard

      Only if it’s a Dalek asking.

      • Joseph

        Thanks, I’ll have to remember that.

  • Xtopher Quietmind

    Also, your Miranda Rights are UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES to be explained to you as you’re being arrested. This is a long-standing Hollywood myth that dates back to the golden days of radio… and is more than a small annoyance to those in the criminal justice field. People who declare “you didn’t read me my rights when I was arrested – ha ha, I’m free” are only broadcasting their ignorance in doing so.

    There are two elements that must be in place to require your Miranda Rights to be read: you must be fully in custody and you must be about to be officially interrogated. BOTH parts must be in effect for the requirement to be in place, and one can easily exist without the other without need of Mirandizing.

  • Skeeter

    I wouldn’t normally buy drugs from a cop, so doesn’t that fit the definition of entrapment?

    • Skeeter

      Never mind. I read a little further. I should have waited to comment.

    • Joseph

      I bought drugs from a cop when I was 15 or 16. He was a drug dealer though…

  • Ryan

    An undercover cop could never just observe without altering the circumstances him/herself. So there’s some interference in any event…

    • Allen Tinker

      That’s not all true. How do you think lathe scale drug cartels are brought down? They spend years sometimes sitting back and observing the crimes happening then just send in an undercover to get the hard proof to bring them down..

    • Joseph

      There’s not even anything wrong with interference. Even buying drugs from a drug dealer and arresting that person would be interfering since there’d be no buyer. I think it would be better for you to check out the entrapment statute in your state to get a better idea of how it works.

  • inconspicuous detective

    so, if one is trying to arrest you and the person(s) end up defending themselves accordingly, killing/wounding the cop then what?

    • Joseph

      They go to prison for a very long time… I would’ve thought that was obvious since avoiding arrest doesn’t constitute self defense.

      • inconspicuous detective

        it does if the person arresting you doesn’t assert themselves as an officer. you don’t know who the hell is trying to do what to you. if they don’t prove they’re who they are, then tough. you can and will get off. that’s why you get a bang on the door and “open up! police!” immediately. no, they don’t “have” to tell you — but they damn well better.

        • Joseph

          If they’re arresting you, it’s a safe bet they’ll tell the person they’re a police officer beforehand. I’d find it difficult to believe any undercover officer would try to arrest a person while still using their alias and without any backup. As long as it’s self defense, it’s legal to kill the person your defending yourself from, but that person had better make sure that it actually falls under self defense in the state that he/she is currently in.

        • Micah Duke

          Right, in addition to what Joseph said below, this would be in scenarios where they’re getting information/observing your illegal activities. When they try to arrest you, it’s going to become pretty apparent that they’re cops.

          • inconspicuous detective

            point made. but in the rare instance that it makes no sense what’s going on and they don’t identify themselves, i think you’d get off. either way you two are right so it’s not big.

  • Too high fa Dis

    Fuck the po-

    Oh, never mind.

    • Yeah I don’t like ponies either.

      • The Ou7law

        He was clearly going to say poodle Mr. Hut

    • Andy West

      post-office, completely agree, bastards charge an arm and a leg for prosthetic deliveries!

      • The Ou7law

        I know the greedy pricks, charging us 49 cents a damn stamp now who do they think we are Bill effing Gates

  • The Ou7law

    I shouldnt have to tell them that im a drug dealer then

    • Joseph

      You don’t have to tell them that.

  • Wtf

    No shit. Did this guy really have to write an article about this and I think every ho in the game knows this by now. And a cop has to tell you he’s a cop and show a badge if they’re going to arrest you. I’m not going to turn around and let some random dude cuff me without showing me a badge or atleast taking me out to dinner 1st lol.

  • Scott

    Anybody who watched Brandon Mayhew get arrested should know this.

  • KathleneKilburn

    Its totally scam in the Police officer recruitment even Police are recruit the useless person.

  • jhgl hgyi

    No, innocent until proven guilty only applies to the defendant. If I argue that I was entrapped or even framed for that matter, the prosecutor is supposed to prove that I WASN’T entrapped or framed, or else there’s reasonable doubt in my defense that such a thing could have happened. You can’t expect a defendant to be able to prove that can you? It’s just common sense.

  • pacmans

    entrapment: the luring by a law-enforcement agent of a person into committing a crime.

    you are wrong in the entrapment part, they are already guilty of entrapment when they ask a drug dealer for drugs or
    a prostitute for sex and believe it or not the a lawyer can use this definition in court

  • shahab akhavan

    People are stupid, they really believe that. It’s common sense…

  • Burt

    No officer thats not my Dope i bought the car in Colorado.