Making a false statement to a federal agent in Houston – particularly an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation – is often a crime. These agents are required to inform anyone they question that a false statement could result in federal charges, but this does not always dissuade people from being less than truthful.
For many, denying wrongdoing might be an instinctive reaction. Others could have a genuinely held belief that what they are saying is true, even if it turns out not to be. In either case, federal investigators could seek criminal charges against a person they believe has lied to them during the course of their investigation.
Not every false statement will necessarily result in a criminal charge. Like with most statutes, there are important exceptions for the charge of lying to an FBI agent. An experienced attorney can advise if your statements might have put you in legal jeopardy, and provide you with a plan to defend yourself. Contact Texas federal crimes defense attorney Doug Murphy to discuss these charges in detail.
Criminal Charges for a False Statement
Whether you are being interviewed by the FBI or any other federal investigator, you could face steep criminal penalties for lying. While you cannot be compelled to answer these questions, you could face repercussions for not answering truthfully.
In some ways, this offense is similar to the crime of perjury. Perjury involves false testimony during a trial or other hearing. An important difference to consider is that perjury involves sworn testimony where a witness swears an oath to tell the truth. You can face criminal charges for lying to the FBI even though you are not in court and have never been sworn to tell the truth.
Violation of 18 U.S. Code § 1001
The crime of making a false statement is governed by 18 U.S. Code § 1001. According to the statute, a violation includes anyone that willfully and knowingly:
- falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact;
- makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or
- makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry.
In other words, there are three broad ways to violate this statute. The first is to conceal a material fact through fraud. This can occur without a person directly lying to the FBI. For example, handing over written documents after secretly removing an incriminating one could count as a violation of the statute.
The second prong of the statute relates directly to false statements. It is unlawful to make any materially false or fraudulent statement or representation. This goes beyond a direct lie and also covers indirectly misrepresenting the truth.
Finally, the third section covers non-verbal acts that are covered by the statute. These include providing the FBI with any forced or false document knowing it includes a materially false statement.
Consequences of a Federal Conviction in Houston
The price you might pay for a single false statement made to the FBI can be steep. This offense is a federal crime and a felony, meaning a conviction could haunt you for the rest of your life.
If you are convicted of making a false statement, you could face up to five years in federal prison. This penalty could be extended to a maximum of eight years if your misstatement relates to any act of international or domestic terrorism.
Time in prison is not the only potential consequence. There are also collateral consequences that can follow a conviction for making a false statement. Given that this offense is a felony, you could spend the rest of your life identified as a convicted felon. This could cost you're your right to vote or own a firearm.
A conviction could also make it challenging to obtain housing or employment. Prospective employers and landlords routinely make use of criminal background checks when making a decision and many will think twice before accepting your application with a felony conviction on your record.
Finally, making a false statement is a crime of moral turpitude. Because you have been convicted of a crime regarding your truthfulness, it can impact your ability to testify in a civil trial or obtain certain loans, among other things.
While these consequences are significant, it is important to remember they are never guaranteed. It is possible to win at trial on a false statement claim. In fact, your attorney might be able to show the prosecutor that the statement was not materially false or was based on a simple misunderstanding. In some cases, the prosecution might agree to dismiss the charges against you entirely.
When Lying to the FBI is Not a Crime
While it is vital to avoid making false statements to the FBI or any other federal agency, the reality is that there are some instances where a misstatement may not result in a crime. Understanding these exceptions could be beneficial to your case should you face prosecution under 18 U.S. Code § 1001.
- First, you must knowingly make a false statement violate the law. It is the fact that you willfully and knowingly deceived a federal agent that is the basis of the crime. That means simply getting confused by the facts or being mistaken regarding a particular matter should not qualify as a crime.
- Second, your false statement must be “material” to the investigation at hand. While remaining truthful with investigators is important, it is only a crime to misrepresent a fact material to the investigation. For example, you are being questioned about a bank heist, lying about being the getaway car at the time of the robbery would be material. On the other hand, lying about what you had for breakfast would not.
- Finally, you can only be prosecuted for a lie that falls within the jurisdiction of the federal agency in question. This means even if a lie is material, it may not lead to a prosecution if the questions are outside the scope of the agent's jurisdiction.
These three factors often make up the basis of a defense to the charge of making a false statement. The issue with many of these defenses is that they can rely on your credibility. It is one thing to claim you had no idea the statement you made was false. It is another to convince a United States Attorney or a jury that you were not aware you had misspoken.
Attorney Doug Murphy has experience defending federal crimes that require the jury to understand his client's motivations. While convincing a jury that a defendant did not knowingly make a false statement can be challenging, Doug Murphy has the skill and experience that could make a difference with your case.
Your Right to Refuse to Answer to the FBI
The most important thing to remember when a federal agent with the FBI seeks to question you is that you can simply say nothing at all. While lying to the FBI is a crime, your constitutional rights protect you from being compelling to give them an incriminating statement.
In many cases, the FBI will simply show up at your home to ask questions. They do this unannounced to ensure you do not have time to arrange for legal counsel. FBI agents are highly trained in obtaining information from a reluctant party. They will often imply that you have no choice to answer their questions, but nothing could be further from the truth.
If the FBI contacts you about making a statement, contact your lawyer right away. Even if the FBI informs you that their questions relate to the activity of another person, anything you say could ultimately be used against you. Your best option is to decline to answer any questions without a lawyer present. In some cases, working with the FBI to clear your name might be in your best interest. You should always make use of a skilled criminal defense attorney during this process, however. Your attorney can ensure you comply with the law and avoid making any statements that could place you in legal jeopardy.
Seek Guidance from a Houston Criminal Defense Attorney
The decision to speak with an attorney before answering questions from the FBI could save you serious headaches in the future. By answering their questions, you open yourself up to potential criminal charges if you are untruthful. Unfortunately, these agents will often treat you as if you are lying even when you make a simple mistake of fact. Skilled legal counsel could help you avoid these headaches and serve as your advocate with any discussions with the FBI.
Attorney Doug Murphy is a seasoned federal criminal defense lawyer. An aggressive litigator, Doug Murphy is never afraid to face down the federal government and challenge their evidence.
You could have a winning defense against a charge of lying to the FBI, but you need strong legal counsel to make the most of it. Schedule your free, no-obligation consultation with the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. to discuss how an experienced Houston criminal defense lawyer can help protect your rights.