Two FBI agents come knocking on your door unexpectedly. They’re friendly and smiling and tell you they just have a few questions if you don’t mind. Or a local detective gives you a call and wants to ask you some questions about a friend of yours. In both scenarios, you get nervous, even if you know you didn’t do anything illegal. Or you realize a friend or family member may be in trouble, and you decide to massage the truth to protect them.
Why? Because the penalties for doing so can be severe.
Under federal law, 18 U.S.C. § 1001, it is a serious criminal offense to do any of the following in connection with any matter within the jurisdiction of any branch of the federal government:
- Falsify, conceal, or cover up a material fact by any trick, scheme or device;
- Make any materially false or fraudulent statement; or
- Make or use any false writing or document knowing it to be materially false or fraudulent.
Violations of this statute are punishable by up to five years in prison, and the penalty is increased to up to eight years for violations related to investigations of terrorism and certain other offenses.
Similarly, under Virginia law, Code § 18.2-460, it is a criminal offense to knowingly lie to a law enforcement officer in the course of an investigation of another person. This offense is punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor, with a penalty range of up to twelve months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500.
Simply put, it is never an option to lie or attempt to mislead any law enforcement officer.
So what should you do if federal investigators or local law enforcement attempt to question you and you have some concerns about the answers you might provide?
Do the following:
- Do not invite any law enforcement officers into your home without a warrant. Instead, step outside when you speak with them.
- Be sure to ask for their identification to ensure they are who they claim to be.
- Request their business cards so you have a record of who you spoke with and a point of contact for future communications.
- Advise them that you wish to consult an attorney before speaking with them, and do not let them push you to change your mind.
Once you have consulted with an experienced criminal defense attorney, they can advise you as to whether it is in your best interests to sit down and speak with the investigators or to assert your Fifth Amendment right not to make any statements.
If you have been contacted by a law enforcement officer, call the experienced state and federal attorneys at Greenspun Shapiro PC today.