Federal False Statements Defense Lawyer

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Federal False Statements Defense Attorney

Our lawyers have years of experience defending against federal charges across the country. One of the most common criminal statutes used by federal prosecutors is 18 U.S.C. § 1001, known as False Statements.


While the offense of False Statements is a felony offense, it is generally considered less severe than many other federal crimes. Federal prosecutors often charge people with False Statements in the following situations:

  • Prosecutors believe someone lied during an investigation;
  • Prosecutors believe someone lied on a form to obtain a government benefit;
  • As part of a plea agreement to a lesser charge;
  • Other more serious charges won’t stick;
  • As an “add on” to other charges to make a person seem untrustworthy to a jury.


The statute criminalizing False Statements was originally enacted to prevent people from impeding governmental functions. Today, however, the government uses the statute to coerce people into cooperating in federal investigations, to force people into plea agreements instead of going to trial on more serious allegations, and to accuse people of lying on complex, and often ambiguous, government forms years after the fact.

While a charge for False Statements can occur in any type of case, we see it most often in white collar cases which typically involve allegations of fraud. Recently, the government has used the offense of False Statements as a tool to strong-arm defendants in PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan fraud cases. By offering a plea to False Statements, defendants are not tried for more serious offenses, like wire fraud. The problem is that this practice causes innocent people to be convicted.


What is a False Statement under 18 USC § 1001?

A false statement can occur in many different forms. Its most common form, however, has four (4) elements:

  1. A false statement;
  2. The statement was made knowingly and willfully;
  3. The falsity was material, and;
  4. It involved “any matter within the jurisdiction” of the government.

The offense of False Statements can also include concealing a material fact or using a falsified document.

What are the penalties for False Statements?

False Statements is a felony offense which carries zero to 5 years in prison. In some cases involving terrorism or sex offenses, the maximum sentence is increased to 8 years in prison.

The statute of limitations for False Statements is 5 years, which begins to run upon completion of the crime.

Can you avoid prison if convicted?

Yes, it is possible to avoid prison if you are convicted of False Statements as there is no mandatory minimum sentence. This means that a judge could sentence you to probation or house arrest instead of prison.

For a False Statements conviction, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines typically use Section 2B1.1 to calculate the offense level. In most cases, the base offense level is 6 (which recommends a sentence of zero to 6 months in prison). The offense level, however, can increase significantly depending on the loss amount and other enhancements that may apply.

Examples of False Statements

The statute criminalizing false statements is broad. Prime examples of cases the government has previously charged include:

  • Misleading an FBI agent during a federal investigation.
  • Lying on an application for government assistance (such as a PPP loan application).
  • Lying on an application for federal employment.
  • Submitting a false tax return.
  • Misrepresenting facts on forms to get a federal certification.
  • Lying on forms to obtain government ID or passport.
  • False statements to private entities that acting on behalf of or insured by a federal agency.

What does the Government not have to prove?

To be convicted of False Statements the Government does not have to show the following:

  • That the false statement was submitted directly to the federal government.
  • That the government suffered a financial loss.
  • That the government made some decision favorable to the defendant based on the false statement.
  • The defendant had actual knowledge of the federal agency’s jurisdiction.
  • The false statement was written or sworn to.

What are common defenses to 18 USC § 1001?

While every case is different, there are five primary defenses that a defendant can raise in a False Statements case:

  • The statement was not false. The most straightforward defense is to show that the statement in question was in fact true.
  • The statement was in response to an ambiguous question. Some government forms are less than clear. If the statement in question is not clear, the government must negate any reasonable interpretation that could make the statement accurate.
  • The defendant did not know the statement was false. The government has to prove that the defendant knew the statement was false. If the defendant believed that the statement was true (e.g., someone had told him that the statement was accurate) or if the defendant made an honest mistake (e.g., mistakenly putting the wrong number on a complex form), there can be no conviction. For example, in PPP cases, small business owners who were unfamiliar with government aid programs were attempting to fill out complicated forms in a time of extreme stress. In many cases, they believed that they were inputting correct numbers.
  • The statement was not material. The statute only criminalizes false statements that were material in nature. While a jury gets to determine whether something is material, most courts agree that materiality exists when the statement had the capacity to influence the government agency. For example, submission of a false name on a passport application would be considered material. The real question is whether the statement had some weight in the agency’s decision-making process.
  • Jurisdictional Requirement. The Government has to show that the agency had the authority to take some action. In some cases, the statement in question is made to a private entity, and the defense can argue that no federal agency was empowered to take any action based on the statement.

DOJ Guidelines

The Department of Justice has guidelines of when federal prosecutors should and should not bring False Statements charges. While the guidelines do afford broad discretion to prosecutors, they do limit when cases can be brought, and a good criminal defense lawyer can use these guidelines to argue for the dismissal of charges.

Timing of Statements
The guidelines are clear that the “Federal interest must exist at the time the false statement is made; it cannot arise after the defendant has made a false statement.” Thus, if there was no federal interest in the statement at the time it was made, the prosecution should not file charges.

Denials of Guilt
One question that frequently arises is whether to charge defendants who allegedly lied during a federal criminal investigation (e.g., the FBI interviewing a target in an investigation). Prosecutors are not supposed to charge individuals who denied guilt during an investigation. If, however, the individual voluntarily made statements which were not true, DOJ policy permits the individual to be charged with False Statements.

Contact Us

Johnson/Citronberg has offices in Alexandria, Virginia and Atlanta, Georgia, and we represent clients across the country in federal court. In cases where we are retained early enough, we have successfully prevented clients from being charged in the first place. In other cases, we have won dismissals, obtained reductions to avoid harsh mandatory minimums, and achieved some of the lowest sentences possible. If you are looking for a compassionate, results-driven lawyer, give us a call at 855-959-4003.


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