Lying to a Federal Agent During an Investigation is a Serious Crime

Posted by Neil Shouse | Feb 05, 2016 | 0 Comments

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If you lie to an agent from the FBI, DEA, or any other federal agency while they are conducting a criminal investigation, you are a committing a serious federal crime.

You definitely have a right to remain silent or consult with an attorney when speaking with federal agents or investigators. However, you do not have a right to lie to them.

18 U.S. Code § 1001 makes it is a federal offense to:

  • knowingly and willfully;
  • make any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation; or
  • make or use any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement;
  • in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative or judicial branch of the United States.

That broad language of that last clause means that the statute applies not only to federal investigations but almost any interaction with an agent of the federal government.

The false statement must be "material" in order to be considered a violation of the law. A statement is “material” if it has the "natural tendency to influence or [is] capable of influencing, the decision of the decision-making body to which it is addressed." United States v. Gaudin, 515 U.S. 506, 510 (1995). Lying about what you had for lunch would likely not count as “material.” Lying about the last time you spoke with the individual under investigation likely would.

For a long time, it was argued that there was an exception to criminal liability under 18 U.S.C. §1001 for a false statement that consisted of the mere denial of wrongdoing, the so-called "exculpatory no.''

However, the United States Supreme Court rejected that argument in 1998, citing the broad language of the statute.


If you lie to a federal agent and are convicted for a violation of 18 U.S. C. § 1001, you can be fined and sentenced to federal prison for up to five years. If, however, your lie involved international or domestic terrorism, you could be sentenced to up to 8 years in federal prison.

Lying to federal agents is a serious offense that requires immediate legal representation. If you've been charged with lying to a federal agent, please contact one of our experienced federal criminal defense attorneys today.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.


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