Roger Clemens was recently acquitted of Obstruction of Congress, False Statements, and Perjury. Many other celebrities in recent years, including Scooter Libby, Martha Stewart, and Rod Blagojevich have faced similar charges in Federal Court.
It is my experience that many Americans feel that they, as non-celebrities, are not susceptible to facing such serious federal charges. While it is true that very few Americans will be called to testify before Congress, it is not accurate to think that the average person is immune from prosecution for lying to an agent of the federal government. In fact, individuals who lie on their tax returns, social security or Medicare applications, while under oath, or to FBI agents investigating a possible crime, may be prosecuted under different statutes of the United States code.
The general false statement statute,18 USC Section 1001, provides in pertinent part: whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative or judicial branch of the United States, knowingly and willfully (1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme or device a material fact; (2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or (3) makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry; shall be fined under the this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years.
It is usually the cover up and not the underlying offense being investigated that results in a conviction. In summary, an otherwise innocent person makes a false statement to the FBI or a false statement to the federal government application regarding a material fact, may face up to five (5) years in federal prison. Recently, Cleveland Attorney Joseph O’Malley was sentenced to four (4) months in prisonand ordered to pay a $10,000 fine for pleading guilty to lying to the FBI. See
In my 25+ years experience as a criminal defense attorney, my colleagues and I have found that 18 USC Section 1001 is one of the most challenging charges to overcome in the pre-trial and trial stages. If you are approached by an agent of the FBI for questioning it is critical to seek counsel prior to saying anything to law enforcement as even a non-committal response or an exculpatory no can be construed as a false statement which can subject you to criminal prosecuton.