Just about everyone has heard the term “perjury,” which means lying under oath. In most cases, people picture someone telling a lie on the witness stand at a criminal trial. While that is undoubtedly a form of perjury, it’s also possible to run afoul of the law by lying to federal authorities during an investigation.
In fact, making a false statement is a specific offense under federal law. The law makes it a crime to cover up evidence, make a fraudulent statement, or submit any kind of false writing or document with the knowledge that it’s fraudulent or untruthful. Any of these actions are serious crimes that can have long-term consequences. If you or a loved one have been charged with making a false statement, it’s important to discuss your case with an experienced defense attorney.
Types of Federal Agencies
When most people think of federal agencies, they often think of the FBI. However, there are many different branches of the federal government, and many of them have their own agents with investigative and police powers.
For example, it’s a federal crime to make a false statement to an agent from the IRS, who is in charge of uncovering crimes related to federal taxes. It’s also illegal to make a false statement to the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, and even the federal postal service. These agencies are all part of the federal government.
Agents from these various federal agencies often have broad investigative authority. Under the law, the fraudulent statement has to be material to the investigation or case to violate the statute. For example, lying about which program you watched on television is unlikely to count as a false statement because it’s probably not material to the investigation. However, lying about where you were on a certain date is more likely to qualify, because it could have an impact on the case.
It’s important to note that an individual doesn’t have to be under oath to make a false statement in violation of federal law. In fact, federal agents aren’t required to warn a person about the law or possible penalties before asking questions or requesting documents. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter if the person makes a false statement during conversation or in writing.
One famous case involving false statements was the Martha Stewart case. In that case, Stewart was charged with making a false statement when she told the Securities and Exchange Commission a lie about a stock trade she made in 2001. According to reports, Stewart claimed she had a pre-existing arrangement with her stockbroker to sells some shares if their price fell below a certain amount.
Later, however, investigators found that Stewart didn’t have an arrangement and instead tried to cover up the transaction by altering phone messages to her broker in a computer. In addition to paying fines. Stewart served five months in a minimum security prison.
Penalties for Lying to Federal Agents
Making a false statement is a felony under federal law. If someone is found guilty of making a false statement, he or she could be sentenced to up to five years in prison. The penalties increase in severity with cases that involve terrorism, with a maximum prison sentence of eight years.
Although it’s somewhat unusual for an individual to serve years in prison for making false statements, it’s important to remember that the law provides a maximum penalty. Depending on the facts of the case and the severity of the false statements, a person could face serious consequences for lying to federal investigators.
The federal statute for making false statements is broad, but the burden of proof for showing that the person knew the statement was false is still on the government. On the other hand, if federal agents informed the person they’re questioning that it’s a crime to make a false statement it could help them meet this required burden of proof.
The reality is that most people are nervous and overwhelmed when a federal agent appears and starts asking them questions. Understandably, they may not absorb what the agent tells them about possible crimes for making false statements. This is why it’s a good idea to work with a federal criminal defense attorney before answering any questions. It’s important to tell the truth, and a lawyer can advise the person being questioned to be accurate, without saying anything that could lead to criminal charges.
If you suspect that you’re under investigation for a crime, or federal agents have asked to question you, it’s in your best interest to speak to a lawyer with experience in federal cases. Any potential criminal case is serious, but federal cases and investigations can carry more serious penalties. A knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer can guide you through the investigation process and help you avoid making misleading or false statements that could lead to criminal charges.
Federal Criminal Defense Attorney John Helms
T: (214) 666-8010