Tell the truth . . . and nothing but the truth 

Have you ever watched the 1980’s film, The Goonies? If you have, then you probably remember the blender scene where Chunk confesses to the Fratellis. In my opinion, this scene (while over-the-top) provides a fantastic example of what is required to tell the truth. He only tells them what he did and what he saw, nothing more. You can view the video clip here

Remember though, don’t be like Chunk, only answer the question asked. Don’t do the Federal Agents or prosecutors’ job for them. Make them ask the right questions. While the above “Goonies” reference may seem comical, oversharing can get you (or your loved ones) in hot water.     

a man in handcuffs for committing federal purjeryLegally, the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth run counter to how our minds work, but understanding the difference can keep you (and others) out of trouble. Your opinion is not the truth; and, if you testify about something you didn’t see or have direct knowledge of, you are telling more than nothing but the truth. For example, let’s say your employer is charged with money laundering and you are asked to testify that you saw he/she give a brown bag to a seedy character every Wednesday at 2:00 pm. You assume money is in the bag, but you don’t know for sure. 

Because your assumption is not the truth, you can not testify that money was in the bag.

Same scenario, except one day you see your employer place a large amount of cash in a paper bag and give it to the same “seedy” character. Now, you can testify that you saw your boss place cash in a paper bag and give it to a sketchy individual once. While this strengthens your assumptions, you can not testify that money was in the bag on the other occasions because you didn’t see it. 

Talking to Agents: “What you need to know to survive

Unless you are subpoenaed to testify, or you and your attorney agree to make a proffer, it is a good idea to avoid speaking with federal agents. For example, let’s say your in a house and all of a sudden agent’s bust down the door. What do you do?

Short answer: KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT. Seems easy, however, the vast majority of defendants convict themselves through their own words. Appeasing authority figures and difficulty sticking to simple rules is just part of the human condition, but awareness is half the battle. 

So, what do you say when confronted by federal (or state) agents? Keep it simple.

  • Am I detained or free to go?
  • Invoke your fifth amendment right to remain silent. 
  • Demand a lawyer.

Following this simple script does two things.

First, it makes the Government’s case more difficult to prove. 

Second, it may save you from the additional crime of lying to a Federal Agent. 

The law: 18 USC Section 1001 makes it a crime knowingly lie to a Federal Agent. 

To be found guilty of USC 1001, the prosecutor must prove that (1) you made a false statement to a governmental agency or concealed a fact from it or used a false document knowing it to be false, (2) you acted knowingly or willfully, and (3) the false statement or concealed fact was material to a matter within the jurisdiction of the agency.

The Consequences: Up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Federal Perjury Charges Summary

A witness that testifies under oath commits perjury if he: (1) gives false testimony; (2) concerning a material matter; (3) with the willful intent to deceive, rather than as a result of confusion or mistake violates USC 1621.

To sustain a conviction for perjury under Section 1623, the prosecution must show: (1) knowingly made a (2) false; (3) material declaration (4) under oath (5) in a proceeding before or ancillary to any court of the United States.

However, a perjury conviction cannot be based upon evasive answers or even misleading answers so long as they are literally true. For more information on charges for lying to the FBI see the article here.