How to Avoid or Defend Criminal False Statement Charges
Many federal criminal cases – especially those involving complex white collar crimes – begin with lengthy investigations by federal agents trying to gather a mountain of evidence before charges even issue. Although you may be tempted to tell investigators whatever necessary to deflect suspicion and avoid association with the crime, making false statements to agents of the federal government can result in additional criminal charges against you. Even if you are not the person under investigation and are only a witness, you can still be prosecuted for false statements to federal agents.
18 U.S.C. § 1001 makes it a crime to knowingly and willfully make materially false statements or representations in any matter under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Unlike perjury, these false statements do not have to be under oath to violate the law. Instead, the law against false statements is significantly broader and can apply to a number of situations, including filing falsified documents with the government or lying to or withholding material facts from federal investigators.
People often misunderstand the power of federal agents. If a federal agent wants to speak to you, you do not have to speak with him or her. However, if you choose to speak to a federal agent and tell them something you know to be false, that is a crime. A conviction for making false statements can mean up to five years in federal prison. It is best to avoid these charges in the first place whenever possible.
Preventing False Statement Allegations
Investigators and prosecutors know that many people may be inclined to lie or conceal information to protect themselves from criminal charges. Making false statements is taken very seriously and investigators will carefully evaluate all information received to determine whether your statements were truthful. It is important to understand that a federal investigator will likely know far more about the subject they want to question you about than you do. This is because law enforcement is able to obtain vast amounts of information, often without detection. This can include written documents, emails, texts, social media posts, and possibly even secretly recorded phone calls and in-person conversations. By the time investigator speaks to you, he or she often has a mountain of evidence to compare your statements against.
If you believe you are the subject of a federal criminal investigation or are called for an interview with investigators, your first call should be to an experienced federal criminal defense law firm. Having the right defense representation during all interviews and interactions is the best way to avoid being accused of making false statements at a later date. A defense attorney can help you prepare for an interview and give you practical advice on how to answer the questions, such as:
- Provide brief answers to the questions asked. If the question can be answered with a yes or no, just say yes or no. Don’t offer unnecessary details.
- Avoid using definitive or overstated terms such as “never” or “always.” Avoid absolute terms when possible.
- Never speculate. If you don’t know or recall something, admit it. Ask for clarification if you’re unsure whether you understand a question. Don’t talk about something you can’t back up with your own knowledge and experience.
- If you realize you said something in error or that you shouldn’t have said, take it back and correct your misstatement quickly.
- If an investigator challenges your statement as untruthful and you know it to be true, do not change your answer. Stick with the truth.
A lawyer can protect you during an interview by stopping an aggressive interview, telling investigators there are subject matters you will not discuss, correcting or modifying inaccurate answers, offering additional information when appropriate or reminding you of information you should convey to an investigator that will be helpful to you.
In some situations, a prosecutor may believe you are guilty of a crime, but will offer you immunity from prosecution in exchange for the information you have. Even if a prosecutor promise you immunity from the underlying crimes in exchange for your testimony, this immunity does not apply to protect you from false statements charges. It is critical to consult with a lawyer prior to any interview with investigators, regardless of whether you have been offered or granted immunity.
Defending Against False Statement Charges
If you’ve already been accused of making false statements, you should not delay in hiring a qualified defense attorney with extensive experience in federal criminal court. There are ways to defend against these charges and minimize the consequences you face, but you need an experienced defense attorney.
One common defense to making a false statement is that you did not “knowingly and willfully” make it. This means you thought you were telling the truth, but simply got it wrong. You may have received wrong information from someone else and didn’t realize it was false. “Knowing and willful” is an essential element of the crime and if the prosecutor cannot prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, the charges against you should be dropped. An experienced defense lawyer will know how to assert the proper defenses and negotiate with prosecutors to obtain a favorable plea agreement when appropriate in order to mitigate the charges and penalties against you.
If a federal investigator wants to question you or you’ve already been accused of making a false statement to a federal agent, you should contact the highly experienced federal criminal defense team at Duffy Law today. Call the office at 203-946-2000 or contact us online to discuss your case.