Lying to Government Agents

"How to Avoid Going to Jail under 18 U.S.C. Section 1001 for Lying to Government Agents"

Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001 makes it a crime to: 1) knowingly and willfully; 2) make any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation; 3) in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative or judicial branch of the United States. Your lie does not even have to be made directly to an employee of the national government as long as it is "within the jurisdiction" of the ever expanding federal bureaucracy. Though the falsehood must be "material" this requirement is met if the statement has the "natural tendency to influence or [is] capable of influencing, the decision of the decisionmaking body to which it is addressed." United States v. Gaudin, 515 U.S. 506, 510 (1995). (In other words, it is not necessary to show that your particular lie ever really influenced anyone.) Although you must know that your statement is false at the time you make it in order to be guilty of this crime, you do not have to know that lying to the government is a crime or even that the matter you are lying about is "within the jurisdiction" of a government agency. United States v. Yermian, 468 U.S. 63, 69 (1984). For example, if you lie to your employer on your time and attendance records and, unbeknownst to you, he submits your records, along with those of other employees, to the federal government pursuant to some regulatory duty, you could be criminally liable.

Posted on June 5, 2006 at 1:24 PM • 49 Comments

Comments

derfJune 5, 2006 1:35 PM

If "time and attendance" fraud is criminal, the entire Federal government would need to be put in jail.

Ed T.June 5, 2006 2:48 PM

Including (maybe even especially) those working for the Bureau of Prisons?

That puts a whole new slant on the term "the inmates are running the asylum".

~EdT.

AGJune 5, 2006 2:51 PM

Bruce, anytime I start to feel comfortable I only have to look to you to be creeped out yet one more time.

aikimarkJune 5, 2006 2:55 PM

@Ed T

I'm surprised the feds and some states haven't used that tactic when trying to keep pedophiles incarcerated, ostensibly for life.

Beware of future Patriot Act ammendements that eliminate self-incrimination protections and mandate that those being questioned can not refuse to answer.

Lou the trollJune 5, 2006 2:57 PM

I referred a coworker to the article. She replied, "seems a minor issue compared to the fact that the feds are now ignoring any law they don't want to follow, and can lock us up and throw away the key without any due process."

Hmm...

Anonymous CowardJune 5, 2006 3:05 PM

The whole case against Zacharias Mussaoui (a death-penalty case!) was based on the fact that he lied to the government. That's really the only wrong thing that they accused him of doing, right? So you can die for lying to the government.

arlJune 5, 2006 3:15 PM

@ac
"The whole case against Zacharias Mussaoui..."

No that case involved the fact that he was part of a plan to commit a crime and could have acted to prevent it, but did not. He then gets to face the music as if he had been there that day.

Mike SherwoodJune 5, 2006 3:19 PM

A lawyer specializing in criminal law wrote a long essay to basically say "Hire me or someone in my field before talking to anyone associated with the government for any reason." I'm always weary of people giving free advice that boils down to "engage my professional services or [some horror ensues]." This essay has the strong odor of FUD.

This just seems like one of those catch all sections of the law that can be used against anyone who isn't easy to prosecute for something real. That means there has to be a reason for them to want to prosecute you for something before they pull this out as a fallback plan. I doubt they're really so bored that this is plan A for everyone they contact.

JakeSJune 5, 2006 3:22 PM

Read the linked article, it's worth it.
Of course, the whole point (as becomes clear at the end) is to advise you to hire an attorney right now if you've anything to hide, and hire one anyway as soon as the feds come to call.  And the author of the article is...  yep, an attorney.  Nonetheless, it's a good article.

AGJune 5, 2006 3:25 PM

@Anonymous Coward
I thought the same thing for awhile...
Beyond the fact he was "ordered" to come to the US by an officer in his army and then his attack spawned a "War on Terror" which in turn caused two nations to be invaded, BUT he is a criminal not a soldier.

I fixed my thinking (because obviously I was starting to think on my own and I live in a RED STATE so that is not allowed) by watching the 9/11 video clips of the towers falling and the video of people jumping out of the upper stories.

After I watched the video I no longer cared about his legal status or even evidence. Kill Him!

Give it a try... free yourself from all this worthless thinking garbage.

Bruce SchneierJune 5, 2006 3:46 PM

"Bruce, anytime I start to feel comfortable I only have to look to you to be creeped out yet one more time."

Glad to be of service.

verJune 5, 2006 3:56 PM

Does this apply to those that lie to Congress, even if not under oath? (ie, Gonzales)

Nick LancasterJune 5, 2006 4:15 PM

Except that since the President (and those who advise him) believe he has the constitutional authority to supersede federal law if HE determines it necessary to do so, then he can, and none of those sissy Congress types, Judicial activist types, or lawyer types can say boo.

MaloneJune 5, 2006 5:02 PM

_______________

Under classic Anglo-American law upon which the United States was founded .... becoming a "criminal" required a person to physically 'act' with deliberate 'intent' to violate the law with awareness of the illegal nature of that action.


Lawful conviction of a crime 'required' fair judicial proof beyond a reasonable doubt of both:

'Actus Reus' {... a bad act}

&

'Mens Rea'{... a guilty mind}


But in today's American 'legal system' -- anyone can become a convicted & severely punished "criminal" -- without any actual knowledge of the "law's requirements" and with no wrongful intent at all.

Thus, the "rule-of-law" no longer exists in America.

Who knew ???

_________________

I. Kahn ReidJune 5, 2006 5:34 PM

"Who knew???"

Did you miss the "knowingly and willingly" clause stuck in there? Mens Rea is still there.

Now, I can't recall when that was ever very hard to prove under any legal system, much less Anglo-American, but it still has to be proven.

JarrodJune 5, 2006 5:35 PM

@AG:

That "officer" was not in an army. It was in a terrorist group not directly part of any government, and hence not an army.

@Nick Lancaster:

While I am among those who has real issues with the power that is concentrating in the Executive Branch, I wonder how you would have responded to Lincoln's suspension of privilege of writ of habeas corpus, and his subsequent actions ignoring the Supreme Court when they ruled his order unconstitutional.

One person named anonymousJune 5, 2006 5:41 PM

Malone--
Well, it's never been required that people know what the law requires of them. Ignorance is not an excuse. The reasoning being that if it were, people would have an incentive to be ignorant of the law since their ignorance would shield them from it. Since that doesn't work, and never has, people have an incentive to know what the law is so that they can conform to it. This is really unconnected to mens rea, which has to do with your mental state as to the act, rather than as to the law. For example, if you intentionally kill someone, that can be sufficient for a murder prosecution, even if you didn't know that murder was against the law. We care that you intentionally did the deed, not that you intended to break the law.

broncJune 5, 2006 5:59 PM

The feds can lie to get you to lie so they can then charge you with lieing later on.

Then if whatever they tried to charge you with falls through, they then charge you with lieing just to destroy you anyhow.

How nice of them.

If I wasn't on probation for just such a thing, I'd least the country...

Paul SJune 5, 2006 6:36 PM

Since nobody else has quoted this yet:

"Did you really think we want those laws observed? We want them to be broken. You'd better get it straight that it's not a bunch of boy scouts you're up against... We're after power and we mean it... There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on guilt. Now that's the system, Mr. Rearden, that's the game, and once you understand it, you'll be much easier to deal with." – Ayn Rand.

Filias CupioJune 5, 2006 7:21 PM

@Anonymous Coward: "So you can die for lying to the government."

You can die for lying to others - shouting "Fire" in a crowded theatre could also lead to a capital conviction.

Changing topic: does this mean that any lobbiest who isn't 100% accurate can be prosecuted?

While were at it: It is my understanding that there were bunches of tobacco company CEOs who testified (under oath) to Congress, and a few years later were proved to have been lying. I've never heard they were charged with perjury. Why not?

AnotherAnonymousJune 5, 2006 7:22 PM

Without summoning up the whole immigration debate, the Senate Bill on Immigration Reform offers a pretty complete "pass" to non citizens on the kind of "lying to a government agent" embodied in the presentation of a fake driver's license or SS card/number.

What's to prevent *US citizens* from creating new identities for themselves once this bill becomes law?

It seems, since the government does not really have the resources to do background checks and meaningful verification of identity claims, all a citizen need do is claim to be an immigrant, and then fill out the appropriate forms (with whatever new name one chooses for oneself. )

I mean, how would the government backup a rebuttal like "Hey, you're not an immigrant -- you're a citizen." I think it's going to be so much cheaper/easier for the government to simply issue a new identity to the applicant.

And yet, I know I must be wrong about this. What am i missing here?

verJune 5, 2006 9:40 PM

@Jarrod @Nick Lancaster

It's easy to use Lincoln because he was fighting something as heinous as slavery.

All the same, though, the executive branch *must* be respectful of the other branches, or the President should be removed. It is very important to maintain that the government is bound by the Constitution, otherwise we are doomed for fascism.

Davi OttenheimerJune 5, 2006 10:41 PM

"It's easy to use Lincoln because he was fighting something as heinous as slavery."

Actually, I think he technically trying to prevent the dissolution of the Union. Minor distinction for 1861, perhaps, but it seems his decision to suspend Habeas Corpus was based on enforcement of Article I, Section 9, paragraph 2 of the Constitution that says "cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it".

I think it fair to say Lincoln thus did not suspend Habeas Corpus just to fight slavery, as heinous as it might seem, but to fight a rebellion and stop a secession instigated by Texas, South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, etc. (although they claimed they were *forced* to leave the Union by "disloyalty of the Northern States and their citizens, and the imbecility of the Federal Government")

Anonymous #734June 5, 2006 11:23 PM


@Jarrod:

Lincoln was wrong. He may have accomplished good, but I at least question the means. I believe secession was well-understood at the time to be a state's right, implied or in some cases explicitly stated in the Acts by which those states were admitted. As well, I believe he acted unconstitutionally suspending writ.

In the case of our current president, I question both the means and the ends.

@Davi:

And what powers are enumerated in the Article I? Executive? No. Suspending writ was (as has been found by the Court) NOT an Executive power.

BadgerJune 5, 2006 11:39 PM

@ver:
"It is very important to maintain that the government is bound by the Constitution, otherwise we are doomed for fascism."

In a country where votes no longer matter (remember the 2000 election?), where Congress will impeach a President who lied to hide a personal sexual affair but not a President who lied to start a war that has killed thousands of innocents, where government is in the pocket of large corporate interests (big pharma sets health policy, big oil sets energy policy, etc.), where the Supreme Court is stacked with justices who will certainly decline to refute the President's claims that he has unlimited power during time of war (which is now perpetual), and where the President invokes international law as a justification for unprovoked invasion of a sovereign state while simultaneously scoffing at the very concept of international law, perhaps we should re-examine our dictionaries:

"fascism - A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism."
American Heritage Dictionary, 1983

How exactly is it that we don't actually live in a de facto fascist state already?

Matthew ClineJune 5, 2006 11:57 PM

*** Although you must know that your statement is false at the time you make it in order to be guilty of this crime, you do not have to ... that the matter you are lying about is "within the jurisdiction" of a government agency. ***

So, technically, you could be break the law by lying to an undercover government agent whom you thought was an ordinary citizen?

AnonymousJune 6, 2006 3:33 AM

> people have an incentive to know what the law is so that they can conform to it.

That supposes that the law is intelligible and capable of being followed by reasonably conscientious people.

SteveJune 6, 2006 4:17 AM

@Matthew Cline:

"you could break the law by lying to an undercover government agent"

The way I read the statute above, you could break the law by lying to anyone. The lie has to be "capable of influencing the decision-making body to which it is addressed", and has to be "in the jurisdiction" of the Feds, but it does not say above that the decision-making body has to be Federal or even governmental. So if you lie about your salary to the local country club to increase your chances of getting in, then since knowledge of your salary is within Federal tax jurisdiction, does *that* mean you've broken 18 U.S.C. 1001?

verJune 6, 2006 8:36 AM

@Davi @Jarrod
``Actually, I think [Lincoln] technically trying to prevent the dissolution of the Union.''

I know that - but as a social figure, Lincoln is associated with trying to free the slaves. When his actions are used to try to justify extreme executive power, Lincoln is being used as some sort of ultimage good-guy. It's just like using Hitler as an archetypical bad guy. Both figures are exteremely socially charged.

@Badger
``How exactly is it that we don't actually live in a de facto fascist state already?''

Uhh... I'll try to remember to ask one of the M16-wielding policemen in the train station.

JohnJune 6, 2006 11:31 AM

Laws like that push my anger button. Somebody talked about mens rea and a criminal *act*. Exactly.

This is a "let's jail anybody" law, and means that we do NOT have a rule of law.

The NY Times has been running a series of articles on the People's Republic of China, for the obvious reason that it too does not have a rule of law. The PRC is worse, but only maybe. It has a wonderful Bill of Rights. The political system ignores it when inconvenient to observe, and praises it when not necessary to observe. Sound familiar?

The local and national government confiscate peasant land for the enrichment of the privileged and politically connected. Think eminent domain.

So far as working conditions go, it is America late 19th to mid 20th Century. Really ugly, workers cheated out of their wages just like we did, and jailed if they protest just like we did.

Is there anything different between their political system and ours? Oh, I forgot, it's got a one-party sytem, while we have a two-party system. Hip-hip hooray. All three parties stand for nothing, and are concerned only with getting power and keeping it once got.

another_bruceJune 6, 2006 12:30 PM

@mike sherwood and jakes:
yeah, a lawyer wrote it, and its subject is an item of absolutely critical knowledge to anyone who will ever be questioned by federal law enforcement. wtf were you expecting, a veterinarian? would it then have greater credibility? is there some undercurrent of antipathy toward lawyers here? i'm a retired lawyer, i'll keep your secret.

Davi OttenheimerJune 6, 2006 1:40 PM

"And what powers are enumerated in the Article I? Executive? No. Suspending writ was (as has been found by the Court) NOT an Executive power."

A fine argument to have, I suppose, but you miss my point. Lincoln based his decision on the need to prevent dissolution of the Union, which some interpret to be a fair interpretation of the Constitution. Ironic that the South claimed that the Constitution had already been violated and therefore they were justified in their secession. Anyway, I was just trying to point out that Lincoln was not specifically acting out against slavery, but trying to stop a rebellion by those who were pro-slavery. It was the obvious crisis of rebellion that spurred his actions, whether you agree with his decision or not.

Davi OttenheimerJune 6, 2006 1:41 PM

"And what powers are enumerated in the Article I? Executive? No. Suspending writ was (as has been found by the Court) NOT an Executive power."

A fine argument to have, I suppose, but you miss my point. Lincoln based his decision on the need to prevent dissolution of the Union, which some interpret to be a fair interpretation of the Constitution. Ironic that the South claimed that the Constitution had already been violated and therefore they were justified in their secession. Anyway, I was just trying to point out that Lincoln was not specifically acting out against slavery, but trying to stop a rebellion by those who were pro-slavery. It was the obvious crisis of rebellion that spurred his actions, whether you agree with his decision or not.

Davi OttenheimerJune 6, 2006 1:42 PM

Admin: sorry about the repeat post. I was getting the following warning and hit post twice:

Got an error: Bad ObjectDriver config: Connection error: Can't create a new thread (errno 11); if you are not out of available memory, you can consult the manual for a possible OS-dependent bug

C GomezJune 6, 2006 3:04 PM

Be careful not to confuse self-incrimination with lying. Just because you aren't allowed to lie does not mean you have lost the right to not incriminate yourself. You do not have to answer on those grounds.

Catch-all laws like these are broad and scary. They can seem like ways to arrest and convict you when we can't really prove that you did something criminal, but we can prove that you lied to us.

I would pose a different question in the interest of objective discussion. Why should you be allowed to lie to investigators, or as the statute puts it, anyone in government such that you do not implicate yourself? I freely admit this narrows the scope of the statute above somewhat. Lying doesn't seem to be a right. You can't lie when giving testimony to juries. You can, however, choose to say nothing.

C GomezJune 6, 2006 3:12 PM

An unfortunate issue in our jury system is the idea that, as a jury member, you have to follow the law, the law is not on trial

I don't believe this for a second. The law is always on trial. If a law is unjust, a function of a jury is to nullify that law by never convicting under it.

How many times do we hear prosecutors saying "well, technically the law has been broken, but I would never get a conviction" (perhaps I more than most, having had worked with prosecutors for a number of years). They know the technical violation, while still a violation, would never be seen by a jury as being criminal. The trial would be a waste of time. This is a legitimate function of juries and current "jury instructions" that negate this are flat out wrong. Personally, I would ignore such instructions. If I feel the law is unjust, I can always stubbornly refuse to convict. That is my right.

Nick LancasterJune 6, 2006 4:29 PM

@ Jarrod:

Regarding Lincoln and his suspension of Habeas Corpus ... I wonder. On the one hand, we have a far more tangible and widespread enemy in an actual time of war; on the other hand, there's that executive authority problem. Still, the courts were allowed to rule on the matter, and Lincoln chose to disagree with the ruling.

Bush won't even let his arguments get into the courtroom.

Davi OttenheimerJune 6, 2006 5:54 PM

"On the one hand, we have a far more tangible and widespread enemy in an actual time of war"

Eh, well, if half the country seceded and formed a rebellious army are you sure that it would be less tangible and less widespread than a foriegn terrorist organization like Al Qaeda?

I sometimes wonder if Al Qaeda was a far more tangible enemy back in 2000 when they bombed the USS Cole and Bush said on the campaign trail "I -- I hope that the -- we can gather enough intelligence to figure out who did the act and take the necessary action. There must be a consequence."

For perspective he also said "I am worried about overcommitting our military around the world. I want to be judicious in its use."

http://edition.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0010/12/...

My point is, I guess, that Clarke and others told the President in February 2001 that it was Al Qaeda and that a targeted roll-back campaign should commence immediately. Targeted as in a "tangible" target. But, alas, there was no consequence and nothing happened. Then came 9/11, which somehow brought the evil Rumsfeld-Chenian relapse into the pseudo-ethical political power-games and experiments that they played in the 1970s.

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/...

"Bradley and Cheney were Republicans, but they differed on Watergate. Bradley recognized that Nixon had violated fundamental American values; Cheney saw Watergate as a power struggle. They even debated each other, in a forum arranged for Bradley's clients.

"'He claimed it was just a political ploy by the president's enemies,' says Bradley. 'Cheney saw politics as a game where you never stop pushing. He said the presidency was like one of those giant medicine balls. If you get ahold of it, what you do is, you keep pushing that ball and you never let the other team push back.'

Nixon's resignation opened the way for Cheney's first truly astonishing inside move up. When Gerald Ford succeeded to the presidency, he needed experienced loyalists by his side who were untainted by the Nixon scandal, so he named Rumsfeld his chief of staff. Rumsfeld brought Cheney right along with him into the Oval Office."

Another InfidelJune 7, 2006 5:23 AM

Paul S - excellent quote from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged - that is truly the way all governments, especially "democratic" ones, rule everywhere.

Anonymous #734 - you are very right - Lincoln was wrong to nullify the right of States to secede - and very few people understand this. Further, considering the present impasse' reached between conservatives and liberals in US and the bitter opposition between them, it is time this right is revived and people/States allowed to vote whether they want to remain in the "Union" any longer or become part of new Unions/Countries, with conservative or liberal constitutions.

C GomezJune 8, 2006 9:12 AM

@ Another Infidel:
"Lincoln was wrong to nullify the right of States to secede - and very few people understand this."

I think at best this is open for discussion. The Constitution grants no right to secede from the union. Rather, it only says how one may join it.

While this does not foreclose the possibility, Lincoln recognized the potential for revolving and repeated secession threats holding the federal government hostage, even when that government might be exercising valid authority.

Therefore, he decided he would address the issue once and for all, and decide it once and for all, by war. Winning the Civil War put the question to rest forever.

El JefeJune 11, 2006 6:25 PM

When Tonya Harding went down for lying to FBI agents (but NOT for conspiracy to whack Nancy Kerrigan's knee), I thought it was yet another fumble by a Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight and a rather sad way for the career of the woman who was once America's finest female figure skater to end.

When Henry Cisneros went down for lying to the FBI about the size of the hush money payments he was making to his ex-mistress (ironically, making the payments wasn't illegal, but lying about the size of them was), I felt it was a sort of cross-eyed justice of the sort Al Capone got for cheating on his income taxes when it proved hard to prove that he was the biggest gangster in the country.

But when Martha Stewart went down for lying to the FBI about _WHY_ she sold her stock in IMClone...a company she was not, by law, an "insider" in...I sat up and took notice, and really gave this some thought. If you recall, the most serious charge against her, and the one that her legal team spent the most resources on, to the (relative) exclusion of the other charges she faced, was that she was guilty of "insider trading"...stock manipulation, really...by appearing at a shareholders meeting of her _OWN_ company and daring to assert she was innocent of the other allegations! If you recall, this charge was withdrawn by the judge _AFTER_ the trial had already been held, the testimony had been heard, and immediately before sending the jury to deliberate on the remaining charges.

After considering the mindset of the prosecution team that persued those charges on those grounds, I could only conclude that if the motive wasn't to play a game of "gotcha!" on an innocent person (note that _deliberately_ selling shares of IMClone based on insider information was _not_ a crime for Martha because she wasn't an insider for _that_ company!), I surely couldn't figure out what the heck it was. Or to put it another way, she might be innocent and she might be guilty, but either way, justice wasn't served.

The consequence of this law is very simple. After a time, every intelligent person will realize that it is an act of great foolhardiness to cooperate with a criminal investigation in any way. If you are "judged" to be guilty by enforcement personnel, they will "prove" that any slip or mistatement you make is a "deliberate lie", and they'll still get you...just like they got Al Capone. Your _actual_ guilt or innocence won't matter, since you will always be "guilty" of something by the time your case gets to court. Soon, nobody will ever make a statement to police except the very foolish, who will be summarily convicted as a result...much like only the unsophisticated now confess to their crimes under questioning today.

So the next time you protect yourself by refusing to make a statement to "help us clear this up", and the officer glares at your because "you must want whoever did this to get away with it", kindly remind him that the reason he is getting the silent treatment is because Martha got sent away for making a misstatement about an innocent act of hers which was not a crime. He'll be very upset, of course, and will do everything in his power to make your life miserable. But at least your lawyer will be able to get you off because you didn't "lie" to a government official.

Is it worth it?

DaveRJune 12, 2006 8:31 AM

Won't this law be an effecient way to shorten the rein for politicians and media? I don't live in the states, but it seems to me that these people get away with anything these days. Perhaps you should start reporting them to the police when it's just too much. Now that you have the law...

El JefeJune 13, 2006 10:33 AM

DaveR, what you need to understand is that this law is applied by those in power against whomever they want, and not against whomever they don't want.

It can and will be used against a Martha Stewart or a Henry Cisneros, provided some suit in the justice department thinks he can make a reputation for himself by prosecuting. Sadly, it is not a tool for holding elected officials accountable, or it could (and would!) be used against, say, Clinton for blatantly lying in a legal document (his deposition in the Paula Jones case). Note that he was also most likely guilty of perjury in addition to this law, yet was never prosecuted once he left office.

Really, it's just a way to concentrate more power in the hands of people who already have it. We're supposed to hold elected officials accountable by voting them out...we used to do that, once.

TritoJuly 11, 2006 6:24 PM

Would it be illegal under section 1001 to lie or misrepresent oneself to say a recruiting agent for the U.S. military?

DeoxysNAJanuary 12, 2007 7:06 PM

Would that mean that lying in school would be a federal offense, and a 17-year-old could be severely punished just for plagerism, or cheating, or just lying to a teacher? Don't you think that's kind of wrong? I have a vested intrest in this, because I am a not-so-perfect high schooler, and this raises many disturbing questions in the education system alone.

Maurice GouletNovember 5, 2010 11:27 PM

If you are accused of lying to a federal agent while in a phone interview, how can you defend the charge when the statements made by the agents are false yet there is no recording to prove so?

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