Lying to Law Enforcement – When It Becomes a Crime
When law enforcement investigates a crime, they often speak with witnesses. There is an expectation that those witnesses will tell the truth. Sometimes, however, those witnesses are lying. Depending on who you speak to and whether or not a written statement is prepared, lying to law enforcement can lead to criminal charges.
Lying in a Written Statement
One way that lying to law enforcement becomes a crime is when something is filed in writing. If you sign a statement in support of criminal charges, you swear that what you’ve written in that affidavit is true. That statement will then be filed as part of the police case file. But if you know what you’re writing is false, you can get in trouble.
In New York, lying in a police report can be charged as Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the Second Degree (Penal Law § 175.30) is a class A misdemeanor. For this offense, a person must:
- Know that the document contains a false statement or information
- Offer or present the document to a public office or public servant
- Believe that by offering the document, it will be filed or recorded with that public office or public servant
Note that the document itself doesn’t need to be forged – lying within this document is sufficient to give rise to the crime. Moreover, the document only needs to be offered. This means that if the public office or public servant doesn’t accept the document, this could still be a crime.
If the document is filed with intent to defraud the state or similar entity, the charge can become a felony. This offense is Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree (Penal Law § 175.35), a class E felony. Additionally, filing specific financial statements with intent to defraud can rise to the felony level.
Related charges include Making a Punishable False Written Statement (Penal Law § 210.45) and Making an Apparently Sworn False Statement in the First and Second Degrees (Penal Law §§ 210.35 and 210.40.
Lying to Federal Agents
Lying to a federal agent, even if nothing is written down, can result in federal charges. For example, if the IRS comes to your home about tax issues and you are lying to them about your income, you can be charged with a crime. In the federal system, this can be punished by years in prison.
For this offense, a person’s statement to the federal agent must be:
- Materially false
- Made knowingly and willingly
- Offered regarding a matter within the federal government’s jurisdiction
Particularly where the person being questioned is a target of an investigation, having an attorney present during questioning is very important. In some cases, exercising the right to remain silent may be the best strategy to avoid lying.
Perjury Is Another Form of Lying
In New York, there are three perjury offenses: First Degree (Penal Law § 210.05), Second Degree (Penal Law § 210.10), and Third Degree (Penal Law § 210.15). Perjury is, in essence, lying through spoken word. Depending on the type of oath or testimony, this will change the level of the offense.
In the federal system, a person can also be charged with perjury for lying. For this offense, a person can face up to five years in federal prison.
- New York Penal Law, Article 175: Offenses Involving False Written Statements. Available at: https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/PEN/P3TKA175 (last accessed July 6, 2022).
- United States Code, Chapter 18, Section 1001, Statements or entries generally. Available at: https://codes.findlaw.com/us/title-18-crimes-and-criminal-procedure/18-usc-sect-1001.html (last accessed July 6, 2022).
- New York Penal Law, Article 210: Perjury and Related Offenses. Available at: https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/PEN/P3TLA210 (last accessed July 6, 2022).
- United States Code, Chapter 18, Section 1621, Perjury generally. Available at: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1621 (last accessed July 6, 2022).
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