A recent newspaper article announced that police were investigating a charge of “criminal impersonation.” A man in Flagstaff told the authorities that he received an email, which the alleged victim described as “suspicious,” from someone who said he was an attorney. The email contained the man’s social security number, and demanded $12,000 in payment for a debt. The supposed debt was, according to the man, a complete fabrication. The email contained a contact phone number, which was eventually found to have been disconnected.
When we hear about impersonation in a criminal context, it usually involves an allegation that the “impersonator” claims to be a law enforcement officer, or another public official of one sort or another. In fact, however, there are three distinct impersonation crimes set forth in the Arizona Criminal Code:
- Impersonating a Police Officer. Under A.R.S. 13-2411, it is illegal to impersonate a police officer (local, state, or federal) and engage in any conduct that is intended to cause another person to submit to your authority. The offense is a class 6 felony, unless the impersonation occurs during the commission of one of more than two dozen specific crimes, most of which are felonies themselves. In that case it is a class 4 felony.
- Impersonating a Public Servant. Pretending to be a public servant, and engaging in conduct with the intent that another person submit to your (pretended) authority is a class 1 misdemeanor. “Public servant” is broadly defined to include, among others, any government employee, and even consultants and notaries public.
- Criminal Impersonation. This is the offense described in the news report, and it includes assuming any false identity with the intent to defraud another person. In the article, the suspect did not claim to be a public servant of any type, but rather an attorney who asserted a claim to an alleged debt which the victim says did not exist. It is a class 6 felony.
While these are distinct offenses, the differences between them can become blurred, and in some cases, they can overlap. For example, impersonating a police officer can, in some cases, be charged as a class 1 misdemeanor (impersonating a public servant) or as a felony under A.R.S. 13-2411.
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