Lying is generally a bad idea. Lying to law enforcement is even worse. It doesn’t matter if you’re a TV star looking to increase his bargaining power or an Olympic athlete trying to cover his own drunken mischief—giving false statements to the police is strategically unsound. In addition to representing a moral and ethical failing, telling tales to law enforcement can earn you criminal charges.
- falsely reporting that a crime has occurred;
- giving false information as part of an official investigation;
- calling in a false alarm for either fire or ambulance services;
- falsely reporting a missing person; and
- falsely alleging officer misconduct.
It’s not a crime to give mistaken information to the police. False reporting only applies where you know that what you’re saying isn’t true. If your intentional misrepresentations of fact substantially hinder any law enforcement process or result in harm to another person, you’ll be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of 365 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. False reports of bombs, weapons of mass destruction, or tampering with consumer products are not even charged as misdemeanors. This type of lie is so potentially dangerous that it starts as a Level 6 felony, which carries a maximum penalty of two-and-a-half years in jail and a $10,000 fine.
Obstruction of justice, likewise, is serious enough that it’s only charged as a felony. If, in the course of an official proceeding, you decide to withhold testimony, alter evidence, introduce false statements, or otherwise attempt to sabotage the investigation, you’ll be charged with a Level 6 felony. It can get worse if you’re trying to obstruct an investigation into domestic violence or child abuse.
Keep in mind, this is all at the State level. The U.S. Code also prohibits making false statements to law enforcement. If the FBI or other federal agents are involved, you can find yourself facing separate and concurrent (State and federal) obstruction of justice charges. This is currently allowed under the so-called dual sovereignty exception to the Fifth Amendment’s double jeopardy clause, and the Supreme Court of the United States recently indicated that this standard isn’t going away.
Bottom line: In everyday life, honesty is often the best policy. When you’re approached by the police, however, you should strongly consider embracing your right to remain silent. The Supreme Court held in Grunewald v. United States that the Fifth Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination isn’t just for guilty people—it also “serves to protect the innocent who might otherwise be ensnared by ambiguous circumstances.” At the risk of stating the obvious: You can’t give false information to law enforcement if you don’t communicate with them at all. Unless you’re the person who called the police for assistance, keep quiet and stay out of the way. Voluntarily offering false information to law enforcement is potentially one of the worst mistakes you can make. If you think you may have said something you shouldn’t have, call the Marc Lopez Law Firm at 317-632-3642 for a free consultation.