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What are “False Statements” According to 18 USC Section 1001?

Under this law, it is a felony to give a “false statement” to an agent or agency of the federal government in connection with a federal case. False statements can be spoken or written.  They don’t have to be made under oath to violate the law.  This law applies equally to misrepresenting income to the IRS or lying to the FBI in an interview. That said, government prosecutors can’t convict a person just for telling a lie. In addition to demonstrating that the defendant made the statement in question to a federal agent or officer, the government is also obligated prove three things:

  1. That the defendant’s statement was “materially” untrue. Lying in and of itself is not illegal – this includes lying to a federal agent. The statement must be “materially” false to be illegal. The word “material” indicates a statement that has a “natural tendency to influence or is capable of influencing” the agent the statement is made to. A material statement is one that is important and relevant to the subject matter at hand. In a criminal investigation, any fact that may be relevant to finding, charging, or convicting a suspect meets the element of materiality. Whether the federal agent believes the false statement or not, this law applies.
  2. That the accused “knowingly and willingly” made the false statement. The prosecution carries the burden to prove that the individual making a false statement is intentionally being dishonest. In most jurisdictions, prosecutors only have to prove that the person making the false statement was aware that it was untrue when they made it. Some courts take this a step further. They may require the government to prove that a defendant was also aware that it is unlawful to make a false statement when he made it. The Department of Justice recently indicated that this is the preferred definition of “knowingly and willingly.” Persons charged with this crime can and do testify that they weren’t being intentionally dishonest or even that they didn’t know they were violating any laws in giving their false statement. At the end of the day, it is the jury that decides whether to heed the defendant or the government’s version of events.
  3. That the false statement was made regarding a matter within the federal government’s jurisdiction. This “jurisdictional element” requires that the government demonstrate that the false statements were given in connection with a matter within the federal government’s jurisdiction. The courts have a sweeping interpretation of “jurisdiction” in this context.  Simply put, it means any area where the federal government has the power to act or enforce regulations. Given the scope of our federal government, that jurisdiction covers the economy, healthcare, education, and many other areas. Subcontractors hired by general contractors who work for the federal government, for example, are under the federal government’s “jurisdiction,” and can be prosecuted for false statements and fraudulent invoices they submit to the general contractors.

Possible Penalties and Defenses to False Statements Charges 

Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section1001, the consequences for making false statements is a maximum sentence of five years in prison. If the false statement is connected to an act of terror, human trafficking, or certain sex offenses, then the maximum sentence increases to eight years.

The three common defenses to a false statement charge are as follows:

  1. The person making the statement was not aware that it was false. This is a valid defense for a person who gives a false statement because of an honest mistake, their poor memory, or a simple misunderstanding.
  2. The statement in question was immaterial. This defense challenges the actual importance or relevance of a statement with regards to a federal matter. Someone might lie about their personal life in an interview with a federal agent, but if the statement is unrelated to the subject matter being discussed, it is not an illegal false statement. An additional defense is possible when a false statement is not given to a government agent or within the government’s jurisdiction. For example, fudging on a job application for a private employer wouldn’t generally be within the government’s “jurisdiction,” even if the private employer sometimes does business with the government. Such a connection is too attenuated.  No degree of federal control exists over the employer.
  3. The interrogation during which the questionable statement was made was unlawful. The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects a person’s right to remain silent and avoid making self-incriminating statements. Anytime a person is in the government’s custody, government officials are required to advise them of their right to remain silent and their right to counsel. If law enforcement fails to advise a person of their rights, and that person gives self-incriminating statements, those statements cannot be used against that person to file charges or prosecute. In some scenarios, however, the government attorneys successfully argue that the individual gave up their right to remain silent and voluntarily made the statements.  Indeed, it is important to hire an attorney with experience in constitutional defenses.

Of course, the best action you can take to avoid being charged for giving false statements is to not give law enforcement officials any statements. In the event that you are approached by federal officers who wish to interview you, you should invoke your right to counsel.  The fact that you asked for a lawyer cannot be used against you later on in court.

Call us for a free and confidential consultation.

Whether you have already been charged with a federal crime under 18 U.S.C. Section 1001, or you have simply been approached by a federal agent, it is critical to get yourself a seasoned and skilled federal defense attorney. Our firm boasts decades of experience counseling clients who were targeted or interviewed by federal agents and defending people who got slapped with false statements charges.

The moment you think you might be the target of a federal investigation, you have been asked to speak to federal agents, or if you are being charged with a false statement offense, contact our firm to speak to one of our well informed federal defense attorneys. Your call is free of charge and totally confidential.


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