Government agents often interview people as part of routine investigations. The FBI, SEC, U.S. Marshalls, and ATF may speak with many individuals during a case. Sometimes, agents talk to people who never expected to become part of an investigation. Hoping to keep someone out of trouble, a relative or friend might not know the gravity of making false statements to government agents. However, a resident of Pennsylvania or any other state could face federal charges for lying to agents. If convicted, the person may face significant time in federal prison.
The prosecutor would need to prove specific elements about the false statement. “Knowingly and willfully” lying to investigators is a critical element. Making a false statement that someone believes to be true might not meet the standard. What if an individual told investigators that a person of interest is in Pennsylvania, but the suspect left for New York? If the suspect lied to their friend about being in Pennsylvania, the person authorities questioned did not “knowingly” make a false statement. The person made a statement that he or she believed to be true. Also, if someone lies because a suspect threatened him or her, the false statement might not be willful.
Also, lying to “government agents” does not exclusively refer to law enforcement personnel. The statute notes that the lie may involve the “executive, legislative or judicial branch of the United States.” Hence, lying to a federal bureaucrat might get someone into criminal trouble. For example, lying to an Environmental Protection Agency official or falsifying documents would probably land someone in legal trouble.
People who assume that “little white lies” won’t come with severe penalties may discover their beliefs lead them into a courtroom and serious charges. Think of the people who make false deductions on income tax returns. Such individuals might find themselves in the middle of a criminal investigation and subsequent charges.
When dealing with a federal investigation, it is beneficial to retain an attorney. An attorney may help keep a client from making statements that prove more harmful than helpful.