Federal drug crimes are among the most harshly prosecuted by the government with potential penalties for violations arriving at several years' imprisonment and fines that reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is not uncommon for defendants to be charged with false statement offenses at the same time, especially if an accused is not willing to cooperate with authorities on an investigation. It's not uncommon, in fact, for government investigators to try to gain leverage with a false statements charge.
Making false statements is a felony, and in addition to the immediate consequences of potential prison time and fines, having a felony conviction on your permanent criminal record can have far-reaching consequences into your future. Not only can it adversely affect your employment opportunities, but it can also make finding housing and securing a federal loan difficult. Depending on your profession, you could encounter issues with licensing and certification. As a convicted felon, you would lose your right to vote and to own a firearm. A felony conviction may also affect your custody arrangement regarding your children; if you are interested in adoption or fostering children, you could run into problems there, too.
Because of the serious potential penalties involved, if you are accused of making false statements in a federal drug crime case, it is imperative that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Having someone on your side like Doug Murphy, who is board certified in criminal defense, can make a huge difference in the outcome of your case.
Read on for some basic information on false statement charges, the elements of the crime, penalties, and defenses, and then discuss your case with legal counsel as soon as possible.
Federal Crime of Making False Statements
Making a false statement or concealing something from a federal investigator who is with a legislative, judicial, or executive branch agency is a federal crime under 18 U.S.C. § 1001. It isn't uncommon in a federal drug crime investigation for someone to be questioned by an FBI agent or someone else representing an investigative governmental agency. If an interviewee makes false statements during the investigation, they are putting themselves at risk for federal false statements charges.
Indeed, if you lie or otherwise make false statements to an investigative federal agent, you could be charged with the crime of making false statements. The law doesn't apply only to verbal statements, either; false written statements can also serve as the basis of a false statements charge. That is, if you falsify documents, commit fraud or attempt to commit fraud, or participate in a cover-up that involves fraudulent statements, you could face criminal prosecution. To be convicted, you must have made the statement willingly and knowingly with the intent to deceive the government agent.
Note, however, that it is not the Justice Department’s policy to bring false statement charges when, during an investigation, a suspect “merely denies guilt in response to questioning by the government.”
The rationale behind the statute's existence is that making false statements to authorities interferes with the justice system and its process and procedures. With federal drug crime cases, sometimes the government doesn't have enough evidence to charge someone with drug crimes, but it may have procured enough evidence during an investigation to bring a false statements charge.
In fact, although it didn't involve a federal drug crime case, the example of the 2004 Martha Stewart case looms large over the false statements area of law. Stewart was being investigated for insider trading and securities fraud for selling her stock in a company after receiving a tip that the company's CEO was selling his stock. Stewart didn't end up with a conviction for insider trading, though; instead, she was convicted of making false statements to federal agents for lying about receiving and acting upon the information. She became a convicted felon and was sentenced to five months in a minimum-security federal prison.
Sometimes, then, it isn't the underlying crime that becomes the basis for federal charges but rather statements made during the investigation. Of course, if you can avoid making any statements at all during an interview with federal investigative agents, that would be ideal. When approached by a government investigator, you can assert your constitutional right against self-incrimination as well as your right to counsel by asking for an attorney. Remember, the fact that you requested a lawyer cannot be used against you in court.
Once charges are brought, though, the real question in each case becomes whether the government can prove its case and secure a conviction.
Proving the Elements of the Crime
To secure a conviction on a false statements charge, the government must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant willingly made a false statement or used written materials that contained a false statement during a procedure within the jurisdiction of a government agency or department and that the statement was material to the business of the agency or department.
If you are accused of the federal crime of making false statements, it's not a given that you will be convicted. Even if it seems that the government has a solid case, an experienced criminal defense attorney knows how to challenge the government's case on each element of the crime.
Penalties for Making False Statements
At its most extreme sentence, a conviction for making false statements can lead to a prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to $250,000. If the crime involved domestic terrorism, the possible imprisonment term reaches a maximum of eight years.
Defenses to False Statements Charges
When defending a false statement charge, your criminal defense attorney will focus on the elements of the crime to show that the government's case does not support a conviction.
One of the most common defenses to false statement charges is that the defendant didn't know the statement at issue was false. If the accused can successfully argue that it was a misunderstanding, a simple mistake, etc., the government will be unable to prove one of the primary required elements of the crime.
Another defense is that the statement was not “material” to a federal matter as required by the statute. If the statement made wasn't relevant enough to the issue at hand — even it was a lie — it may not form the basis of a false statements conviction. For example, if during an interview involving drug crimes, the interviewee lies about their marital status, and that statement has no relevance to the investigation of the drug crime, it would not rise to the level of relevance needed to sustain a false statements charge.
An attorney may also successfully move to have the allegedly false statements suppressed from evidence if the interview itself was illegal. If the government investigator failed to inform the interviewee of their constitutional right to remain silent and right to counsel, and thereafter the interviewee made incriminating statements, those statements cannot be used against them. This defense can be difficult to establish, however, as the government may counter that the accused willingly relinquished the right to remain silent and spoke voluntarily.
Overall, it is important to understand that just because you have been charged with making false statements, it doesn't mean you will be convicted. Having an experienced criminal defense attorney is crucial as they can handle the intricacies involved in false statement cases.
Time to Call a Board Certified Criminal Defense Attorney
Federal drug crime cases are among the most serious because of the potential repercussions — and with drug cases often come false statement charges. Doug Murphy has decades of experience representing the accused in all types of criminal cases, and he can help make sure you get the best outcome possible given your circumstances.
If you're ready to take control of your defense, contact Doug Murphy online or call (713) 229-8333 today. Let him take the lead and make sure your rights are represented and that you're fighting the false statements charges with the proper preparation and force.