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Is It a Crime To Lie to the Government Even If You Are Not Under Oath?

Many people may be surprised to learn that they can be prosecuted for lying to a government official, even if they are not under oath.  Under Section 1001 of title 18 of the United States Code, it is a federal crime to knowingly and willfully make a materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the United States.

  • You must “know” that what you are saying is a lie to make you guilty of this crime. But you do not need to know that lying to the government is a crime, and you are not entitled to a warning that you could face criminal penalties for lying.
  •  The lie must be “material.” This requirement is met if the false statement has the natural tendency to influence the decision of the agency that the lie is addressed to.
  • As long as the lie is related to a “matter within the jurisdiction” of a federal government agency, the statement does not need to be made directly to a federal employee.

The federal government is expansive, regulating many areas of our lives.  Therefore, the reach of Section 1001 is potentially endless, and prosecutors have vast discretion in deciding whether to charge violations.

Section 1001 has been used to prosecute several high-profile defendants.  Martha Stewart, for example, was never convicted of insider trading, but she was convicted of making false statements to federal investigators about her sale of the stock.  In the end, the cover up was worse than the crime.

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