The U.S. criminal code is vast. From securities fraud to embezzlement, there is a seemingly endless number of ways to break the law. If you have done something illegal, you want your criminal exposure to be as limited as possible.
When investigating potential crimes, federal investigators often seek to interview everyone involved. Put simply, lying to federal investigators could land you in legal jeopardy. If you think investigators are likely to question you, you should know a few things about making false statements.
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects individuals from incriminating themselves. Further, whether you are guilty of violating federal law likely depends on whether you have satisfied all the elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. As such, the U.S. Department of Justice policy states that asserting innocence or denying guilt during a criminal investigation does not qualify as making false statements to a federal investigator. If you go further, though, prosecutors may charge you with a crime.
Making material misrepresentations
Generally, for prosecutors to secure a conviction for making false statements, the misstatements must be material. That is, they must make a difference in the investigation. Still, this legal threshold is comparatively low. Even worse, you do not get to decide what is material and what is immaterial. Therefore, it is usually best not to make false statements during a federal investigation. On the contrary, exercising your right to remain silent is probably a better strategy. Remember, prosecutors may charge you with making false statements even if they determine you did not commit other crimes.
Asking for legal counsel
Determining whether something you say is accurate may be more difficult than you think. Because you do not want to face additional charges for making false statements, asking for legal counsel before answering an investigator’s questions may be a good idea. After all, experienced lawyers understand how to keep their clients from additional legal exposure.
As the old saying goes, when you find yourself in a hole, it is best to stop digging. If you think you are soon to face criminal charges, you do not want prosecutors to add additional ones. By understanding what making false statements to a federal investigator means, you can likely avoid additional liability.