If federal law enforcement agents show up at someone’s home or office and begin questioning them about some business dealings, an investment or anything that could involve criminal actions – even someone else’s – people often say things that are unwise. Sometimes they lie. They think there’s no harm in that. They’re not under oath.
Lying to federal agents and investigators, however, is a crime. Depending on the nature of the lie and the consequences of not providing truthful information, you could find yourself facing serious criminal charges – and potentially years behind bars.
Martha Stewart is probably one of the most unlikely and famous people to serve time for lying to federal investigators who were looking at alleged insider trading. Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is just one of a number of political figures who have been convicted of making false statements to federal authorities. Sometimes, it’s easier for prosecutors to prove that someone lied about a crime than to prove their culpability in the crime itself.
What does federal law say?
Lying about something relatively insignificant or irrelevant to the case isn’t going to get you charged with a crime. It is a crime, however, to make “materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements or representation” to federal authorities.
Often, people think that they’re savvy and smart enough to mislead agents and investigators. These professionals, however, know what they’re doing. They know how to make people feel comfortable enough to let their guard down and talk to them.
That’s why it’s always wise to remember that you have no legal obligation to answer their questions and that you have a right to seek legal counsel. That’s always good advice whether you’ve done anything wrong or not. Don’t worry about whether it makes you look “guilty” or not. It’s better than taking a chance on saying something that could come back to haunt you.