What Are the Penalties for Lying to Congress? - FindLaw Blotter

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What Are the Penalties for Lying to Congress?

Perjury and lying to the federal government are both crimes that could land a person in some serious legal trouble. If convicted of either crime, a person could be looking at up to five years in prison. This means that if a person is found to have lied during a congressional hearing or investigation, or simply lied to an FBI or other federal agent, actual jail time could result.

Today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions' faced allegations of lying to Congress. However, high profile prosecutions for lying to congress, feds, or even for perjury, don't happen very often.

How to Prove Perjury or Lying to Congress

When a person is prosecuted, there are separate federal regulations for perjury specifically and lying to the feds generally. Under the United States Code, title 18, section 1001, a person who knowingly or willingly makes a material statement that is false, or fraudulent, to the feds, is guilty of a crime. What comes as a surprise to many is that unlike section 1621, section 1001 does not require that a person be under oath.

The difficulty that comes in prosecuting these crimes is the requirement that the statements be made knowingly or willingly. This allows those being accused of, or investigated for, perjury, to assert a lack of knowledge at the time of the statement that the statement was false. However, this may not be compelling enough to defeat or avoid a prosecution if contradictory evidence exists. Additionally, individuals who lie out of fear, or provide evasive answers, during a federal investigation, frequently find themselves facing the threat of federal prosecution.

Section 1001 has a long and distinguished history, and has been used against notable, convicted liars Rod Blagojevich, Scooter Libby, Bernard Madoff, Martha Stewart, and Jeffrey Skilling. Furthermore, some might recall that President Bill Clinton faced impeachment not because of the inappropriate relationship, but rather because he lied about the relationship.

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