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Is it illegal to impersonate someone in Colorado?

Posted by Neil Shouse | May 22, 2019 | 0 Comments

Yes, in certain circumstances if the impersonator has an intent to defraud.

Definition

A person violates Colorado's criminal impersonation laws (C.R.S. 18-5-113) by knowingly assuming a false identity while doing either of the following five things:

  1. signing a recordable legal document and with intent to pass it off as true;
  2. posting bail for someone;
  3. marrying (or pretending to marry) another person who is ignorant of the false impersonation;
  4. doing anything may subject the person being impersonated to a legal or financial penalty; or
  5. doing anything with the intention to illegally gain a benefit for him/herself or to defraud or harm another person

Therefore, impersonating someone becomes a crime if the purpose of the impersonation is meant to benefit the impersonator or harm someone else. Examples include:

  • Making a purchase in another person's name and without the other person's permission.
  • Breaking the law in the guise of another person in order to get the other person into trouble.
  • Co-signing a loan application as another person in order to get accepted.

But dressing up as someone else for a Halloween costume is almost always legal as long as no other crimes are being committed.

Note that a person commits the related Colorado crime of impersonating a peace officer (C.R.S. 18-5-112) by both:

  • falsely pretending to be an officer of the law, and
  • performing an act while pretending that role

For example, donning a police uniform and conducting Terry stops ("stop and frisks") would be criminal impersonation. But simply showing up to a costume party in a police costume would be legal.

Defenses

The most effective way to fight criminal impersonation allegations turns on the unique circumstances of each case. Three common defenses include the following:

  1. No impersonation occurred;
  2. Even if the defendant did impersonate someone, no underlying crime (listed above) occurred; or
  3. Even if the defendant did impersonate someone, he/she had no intent to defraud.

In some cases, it may be a defense that the defendant had the other person's consent to impersonate him/her. But this may not be a sufficient defense if the impersonation still caused others harm or unjustly enriched the defendant.

In every criminal case, the D.A. has the burden to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Typical evidence in these types of cases may include:

  • eyewitness testimony
  • documents signed by the alleged impersonator
  • video or audio recordings
  • written communications (such as text messages or emails)

Penalties

Criminal impersonation is generally a class 6 felony in Colorado. The punishment includes:

  • 1 year to 18 months in Colorado Prison;
  • a fine of $1,000 to $100,000; and
  • mandatory 1 year of parole

Impersonating a peace officer is also a class 6 felony in Colorado. The punishment includes:

  • 1 year to 18 months in prison;
  • a fine of $1,000 to $100,000; and
  • mandatory 1 year of parole

Meanwhile, impersonating a public servant other than a peace officer is only a class 3 misdemeanor in Colorado. The punishment includes:

  • up to 6 months in jail; and/or
  • a fine of $50 to $750

About the Author

Neil Shouse

Southern California DUI Defense attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT).

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