The California Highway Patrol (CHP) is granted authority to enforce the state's roadways laws— CHP officers represent that authority. They primarily patrol the interstates and highways and are authorized to make arrests and issue traffic citations.
They drive specially marked vehicles and wear distinct uniforms that set them apart from all other law enforcement agencies in California.
Because there's an inherent level of trust in that office, motorists need to feel assured that the officer is legitimate and genuinely authorized under the law when they interact with these officers.
For that reason, Vehicle Code 27 VC categorically criminalizes impersonating a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer. This includes an individual falsely representing themselves as a CHP officer or otherwise wearing the uniform, insignia, or emblem that resembles a CHP officer.
It also includes the assumption of the duties, obligations, roles, or responsibilities of someone of interest to gain a benefit. Also, impersonation includes acquiring accessories that mimic the CHP brand to assume the role of a CHP officer.
VC 27 says, “Any person who without authority impersonates, or wears the badge of, a member of the California Highway Patrol with the intention to deceive anyone is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
To prove that someone is guilty of violating Vehicle Code 27 VC, a prosecutor has to prove that they impersonated or wore the badge of a member of the California Highway Patrol and did so without authority.
If you are charged with this crime and are convicted, you could face up to 6 months in jail. Let's review the state law in more detail below.
Understanding Vehicle Code 27 VC
This law is in place not only to preserve public trust in the officers of the CHP but also to deter those who would impersonate law enforcement to victimize motorists.
To convict you of this crime, prosecutors must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You wore the official badge or uniform of a CHP officer; OR
- You otherwise represented yourself as a member of the CHP; AND
- You were not authorized to wear the badge or present yourself as a CHP officer; AND
- You did so with the specific intent to deceive.
VC 27 is a specific intent crime to defraud another person for a benefit. The intent is to mimic a CHP officer by demonstrating to someone that you have the legal authority to engage them when it would not have otherwise been possible if not a CHP officer.
What are the Exceptions to the Rule?
Generally speaking, those who impersonate CHP officers as part of a film, TV show, play, or other dramatic presentation are exempt from prosecution under VC 27.
The reason is that the law effectively authorizes this activity provided it occurs in a controlled environment and with no expectation to deceive anyone.
Also, VC 27 would not apply if someone dresses up as a California Highway Patrol officer as part of a costume, such as on Halloween.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: David and Clyde embark on a scheme to dress in CHP uniforms and pull over drivers to scam them, writing them a fake "ticket" and pressuring them to pay on-site using Venmo or Zelle. In addition to other fraud crimes, David and Clyde can be charged with impersonating CHP officers under VC 27.
EXAMPLE 2: Aaron dresses up as a CHP officer for a costume party. He will likely not be charged under VC 27 because he had no intent to deceive.
EXAMPLE 3: Toni is an actress in a movie shooting on a California highway. She is dressed in a CHP uniform and drives a replica Highway Patrol vehicle for the scene.
During a break from filming, while the roadway is open to drivers, Toni decides to pull over a motorist as a prank. Although Toni would generally be exempt from prosecution for playing a CHP officer in a movie, she could still be charged under VC 27 because she acted outside of that controlled environment and used her costume to deceive a motorist.
What Are the Related Crimes?
Several California laws are related to Vehicle Code 27 VC impersonating a CHP officer, such as the following:
- Penal Code 538d PC – impersonating a police officer;
- Penal Code 529 PC – false impersonation;
- Penal Code 530.5 PC – identity theft;
- Penal Code 148 PC – resisting arrest;
- Penal Code 148.9 PC – false identification to police.
What Are the Penalties for PC 27?
Impersonating a CHP officer is considered a misdemeanor in California. If you are found guilty of this crime, you may face the following penalties:
- Up to 6 months in county jail;
- A fine of up to $1,000; or
- Both a fine and jail time.
The judge may impose summary probation instead of jail time in some instances.
Defenses Against VC 27 Charges
Defense strategies against charges under Vehicle Code 27 VC by a California criminal defense lawyer vary according to the case's specifics. Still, the most common defenses involve disproving one or more of the abovementioned elements, as discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that you had no intent to deceive. It's not a crime to dress up as a CHP officer; the action must be done to fool someone else into thinking you are CHP. If, for example, you dressed up for a party or Halloween and had no intention that anyone would take the outfit seriously, you should not be convicted of this crime.
Perhaps we can argue that you were acting in a role. If you and your attorney can prove that you were playing the role of a CHP officer in a movie, TV show, or play, you can claim an exemption from prosecution.
Perhaps we can argue that you were authorized. For example, you may have been temporarily deputized to function as a CHP officer. If you were legally authorized to wear the badge and perform that role, you could not be convicted under VC 27.
Contact our law firm by phone or using the contact form to review the case details. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, CA.