Review of Federal False Statement Charges and Defenses
Under 18 U.S.C. § 1001, it's a federal crime to make a false statement to a government agent when it's related to a federal issue.
The statements could be made verbally in person or in writing and do not have to made under oath in order to get charged under this federal statute.
One of the most common ways for someone to face a federal false statement charge involves lying to FBI agents during an interview. Lying is generally not a crime, but as you can see, it depends on who you're speaking to.
Federal prosecutors will frequently use the False Statement Accountability Act to indict someone, or makes threats to indict, someone they believe is not cooperating with a criminal investigation.
Intentionally making false statements or concealing a material fact to a federal agent or investigator is a federal crime, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Investigators and prosecutors sometimes use the threat of a false statements charge to gain leverage against someone they believe has information important to their case.
A false statements charge may also be tacked on to another criminal charge, often involving deception such as fraud or embezzlement.
It is important to understand that making false statements is separate from any other charges and carries its own penalties that can add years to a potentially already lengthy prison sentence.
In other words, a false statements charge should be taken extremely seriously. For more detailed information, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will review the federal law below.
False Statements Defined by Statute
According to 18 U.S.C. § 1001, making false statements or concealing anything from a federal agent or investigator who is a member of any governmental branch is a federal crime.
A “false statement” could be a material omission, a misrepresentation, or the use of a fraudulent document. Whoever is making the statement must have intended to deceive the government agent.
More specifically, under 18 U.S.C. § 1001, it is a crime for whoever, in any issue within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the United States Government, knowingly and willfully to:
- “falsify, conceal, or cover-up by any trick, scheme or device a material fact”;
- “make any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation”;
- “make or use any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry.”
Any facts that are not “material,” which means tangential, not important to the outcome of the proceeding, even they can be proven false, do not typically support a prosecution under 18 U.S.C. § 1001.
Further, errors that are not important will also not be prosecuted under this statute.
The government official involved in false statement charges is often a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent, but they may also work with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), or any other federal agency.
Speaking with federal agents
The best way to avoid a false statements charge is to refrain from speaking with federal agents until you have an attorney present for the questioning.
If approached by even friendly-seeming agents, you should consider respectfully telling the agents that you'd be happy to speak with them once you have an attorney present.
If federal law enforcements agents show up at your home with a search warrant, just remain calm and silent and contact your lawyer.
Related Federal Crimes for False Statements
Another type of false statement crime is found in 18 U.S. Code § 1035, making it illegal to make a false statement related to health care matters. This type of statement could include lying about your health or income to fraudulently receive benefits in a health care program.
Making false statements that violate federal law are related to the crimes of obstruction of justice and perjury, which are penalized under 18 U.S.C. § 1621 and 18 U.S.C. § 1505.
If you knowingly make a false statement in a federal government proceeding or an investigation, you are in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001.
However, if you made the false statement with the intent to influence, obstruct, or impede a federal investigation, then you could also face charges for obstruction of proceedings under 18 U.S.C. § 1505.
Further, if the false statement was made while under oath in a federal court or during a congressional hearing, you could also be charged with the federal crime of perjury under 18 U.S.C. § 1621.
Note that a false statements charge is available to prosecutors even if the person making the statement wasn't under oath at the time.
Examples of False Statements
False statements charges often arise from statements made during an investigative interview, but the statute also covers false statements made during testimony before Congress or a grand jury.
False statements made on written documents can also form the basis of a false statements charge. Such documents can include routine government forms such as customs declarations and taxes.
Alleged false statements may also be found in written documentation provided to regulatory agencies and inspectors.
A false statements charge can stem from material omissions as well. That is, if you leave a detail or fact out in your statements to a federal agent that the government believes is “material” to their case, you could face a false statement charge for concealment.
Proving Federal False Statements Charges
While the laws governing false statements are broad, it can still be difficult for the government to secure a conviction because they must prove that the defendant knowingly and willfully beyond a reasonable doubt.
That is, the prosecution must show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the statement was:
- Materially false;
- Made regarding a matter within the jurisdiction of the federal government; and
- Made knowingly and willfully.
A federal prosecutor will have to prove you were intentionally dishonest and knew it was unlawful make the false statement at the time you made it.
The crucial factors in an 18 U.S.C. § 1001 federal false statement case are the terms “knowingly and willingly.”
Thus, defendants will often claim they were not intentionally lying or had no idea it was a violation of federal law.
Punishment for a False Statement Conviction
Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 1001 is a serious white collar crime in itself, but is frequently charge along with another federal crime, such as fraud related issues.
Making a false statement to a federal agent, a financial institution or a government entity is a crime all alone. If convicted of 18 U.S.C. § 1001, you are facing five or eight years in federal prison, depending on specific facts of the offense.
False statement charges are perhaps frequently connected embezzlement and money laundering financial crimes using deception.
It should be noted there are certain enhancements that can increase the penalties, such as sex crimes, human trafficking, and any connection to domestic or international terrorism.
Defenses for Federal False Statements
As you can see from above, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you knowingly and willfully made the false statement. Under our criminal justice system, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
There are several defense strategies our criminal defense lawyers can use against charges of making a false statement, including:
- Statement wasn't material to the matter at hand;
- Statement wasn't in regard to a matter with the jurisdiction of the federal government;
- Statement wasn't made knowingly or willfully;
- Lack of intent to defraud the government;
- Mistaken identity;
- Illegal interrogation in violation of constitutional rights;
- Prosecutor has insufficient evidence for a conviction.
Note that there is no requirement that the statement must be recorded.
If you're already facing a false statements charge, it is imperative that you speak with an experienced criminal attorney as soon as possible.
While making a false statement might seem like a minor crime, a conviction carries harsh consequences.
With prison time and hefty fines looming as possible sentences in the case of conviction, there's no time to waste.
We might be able to negotiate with the federal prosecutor for reduced charges or even a case dismissal.
We serve people in the state of California and throughout the United States who are facing federal charges.
Call the criminal defense law firm of Eisner Gorin LLP at (877) 781-1570 to speak about your case.