Welcome back to Ask a Lawyer, where I, a lawyer, respond to your questions. Got a vexing legal issue? Send it over. Today, we’re tackling some of the weirdest emails we’ve gotten since the last Lightning Round, all at once. Let’s go.
If I wore a windbreaker that said FBI or ATF on the back of it, would that be a crime? Do you have to actually present yourself as law enforcement to be impersonating law enforcement, or is the appearance enough? A sexy cop outfit on Halloween is obviously not a real cop, but what’s the actual line between fashion and impersonation?
Feel free to reword the question how you want. Also, don’t use my name. Use “Dean.” You can only publish this if you use “Dean.”
Dean, if that’s your real name, the primary federal law on this topic makes it illegal to (a) pretend to be a federal agent or (b) demand something of value while pretending to do so. However, Justice Department guidance on this topic says that you shouldn’t be prosecuted if you don’t commit an “overt act” in keeping with your Fox Mulder pretense (who, it turns out, is not a real agent in the first place). In other words, if you’re not using your impersonation to get someone to do something for you outside of the situation, then the feds don’t care. There are state laws that are similar regarding law enforcement, too.
What does this mean? Your dreams of dressing up as Sexy USDA Agent next Halloween are fine as long as you don’t pretend yourself into any actual unwanted inspections. The only crime you’re committing is a crime of fashion. (If you’ll excuse me now, I have to go hang dry my Female Body Inspector t-shirt for “work” later today.)
Read the rest of the column here at Deadspin.
Illustration by Sam Woolley.