What are “false statements” under 18 USC Section 1001

Under 18 USC Section 1001, it is a felony to make a “false statement” to an agent or agency of the federal government in connection with a federal matter. False statements can be spoken or written and do not have to be made under oath to violate the law, applying equally to misrepresenting income to the IRS or lying to the FBI during an interview. The government can’t convict a person simply for telling a lie. In addition to proving that the defendant made the statement in question to a federal agent or officer, the government must also prove three things:

  1. That the defendant’s statement was “materially” false. Lying by itself is not illegal, including lying to a federal agent. A statement must be “materially” false to be illegal. A statement is material if it has a “natural tendency to influence or is capable of influencing” the agent the statement is made to. In other words, a material statement is important and relevant to the subject matter being discussed. In criminal investigations, any fact that may be relevant to finding, charging, or convicting the suspect meets the element of materiality. It’s irrelevant whether the government believes the false statement. The law still applies even if the federal agent knows the statement is false.
  2. That the defendant “knowingly and willingly” made the false statement. The government generally has to prove that the person making a false statement is being intentionally dishonest. In most jurisdictions, the government only has to prove that the person making the false statement knew it was untrue when they made it. Some courts go a step further, however, and require the government to prove that a defendant knew it was unlawful to make a false statement when he made it. The Department of Justice has recently indicated this is the preferred definition of “knowingly and willingly.” Defendants can and do testify that they weren’t being intentionally dishonest or that they didn’t know they were breaking the law. Ultimately, however, it is the jury that decides whether to believe the defendant or the government’s version of events.
  3. That the statement was made regarding a matter within the federal government’s jurisdiction. This “jurisdictional element” requires that the government prove that the false statements were made in regard to a matter within the federal government’s jurisdiction. Courts have broadly interpreted “jurisdiction” in this context to mean any area where the federal government has the power to act or enforce regulations. Given the scope of our government, that jurisdiction includes the economy, healthcare, education, and many other areas. For example, subcontractors hired by general contractors who work for the federal government are within the federal government’s “jurisdiction,” and can be prosecuted for false statements and fraudulent invoices they make to the general contractors.

Penalties and Defenses for Violating 18 U.S.C. Section 1001

Under 18 U.S.C. Section1001, the penalty for making false statements is a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison. However, if the false statement is related to an act of terror, human trafficking, or certain sex offenses, the maximum sentence increases to eight years.

There are three common defenses to a false statement charge uner 18 U.S.C. Section 1001:

  1. The person making the statement did not know it was false. There is a valid defense when a person makes a false statement because of an honest mistake, their poor memory, or a simple misunderstanding.
  2. The statement was not material. This defense challenges whether a statement is important or relevant enough to be considered “material” to a federal matter. A person may lie about their personal life in an interview with a federal agent, but if the statement is unrelated to the subject of the interview, it is not an illegal false statement. A defense also exists when a false statement is not made to a government agent or within the government’s jurisdiction. For instance, a lie on a job application for a private employer wouldn’t necessarily be within the government’s “jurisdiction,” even if the private employer occasionally does business with the government. The connection is too attenuated, and there is no degree of federal control over the employer.
  3. There was an illegal interrogation. The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects your right to be silent and avoid making self-incriminating statements. Whenever a person is in the government’s custody, the government must advise them of their right to remain silent and their right to counsel. If the government fails to advise a person of their rights, and they make self-incriminating statements, those statements cannot be used against that person. Sometimes, however, the government can successfully argue that the person gave up their right to remain silent and voluntarily made the statements, so it is important to retain an attorney with experience in constitutional defenses.

Of course, the best thing you can do to avoid being charged for making false statements is to not make any statements. If you are approached by federal officers who request an interview, you can always invoke your right to counsel, and the fact that you requested a lawyer cannot be used against you in court.

If you need help, call us for a free and confidential consultation.

Whether you have been charged with a federal crime under 18 U.S.C. Section 1001, or have been approached by a federal agent, it is important to hire an experienced federal defense attorney to help you. Our firm has over twenty years of experience counseling individuals targeted or interviewed by federal agents and defending those charged with making false statements.

If you believe you are the target of a federal investigation, if you have been asked to speak to federal agents, or if you are being charged with violating 18 U.S.C. Section 1001, call our firm to speak to one of our experienced federal defense attorneys. We have successfully represented clients in federal criminal cases across the United States.

Our firm has offices in Atlanta and Washington DC, and we frequently travel to other federal courts to represent people in serious federal criminal cases.

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