Why lying to federal authorities isn’t a minor offense

It’s never wise to lie to any law enforcement officer. If a person lies about someone else’s criminal actions, they can find themselves facing charges for being an accessory to the crime, even if they weren’t involved in it.

People lie about their own culpability in criminal behavior all the time. That’s also unwise. It’s better to assert your Fifth Amendment rights and your right to legal representation. Just because you’re not under oath, that doesn’t mean you can’t face penalties for not telling the truth.

The materiality of the lies matters

Lying to federal agents, including FBI agents, can carry especially stiff penalties. Most people don’t realize that lifestyle maven Martha Stewart was convicted and served time in prison not for her insider trading activity but for lying to federal investigators about it. A host of other well-known people, including high-ranking government officials, have made the same mistake and paid for it.

Under federal law, anyone who lies to a representative of any branch of the federal government, including Congress, can be sentenced to up to five years behind bars. In some cases, such as in cases of terrorism investigations – the sentence can go even higher.

Unintentionally misstating a fact or lying about something irrelevant typically isn’t enough to get someone charged with a crime. The federal law applies to anyone who “makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation” to federal authorities.

Authorities often know more than they let on when they question people. If you say or do anything that makes an investigation more difficult, you can expect to face criminal penalties. As we noted, your best move when being questioned by authorities at any level is to have legal guidance.