The federal government will frequently charge individuals with a violation of 18 USC 1001 for giving a False Statement to a Government Agency. To be convicted under that section, a person must act “willfully” in making false statements to investigators. Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has quietly adopted a more defense-friendly position on such prosecutions. Federal prosecutors are now told that in order to prove a person acted willfully in providing a false statement to a federal agency, they must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew that making the statement was unlawful – not just that the statement was false. This is a material change in the government’s charging decisions that could affect future white collar investigations and prosecutions under Section 1001.
Such prosecutions have ensnared such high-profile defendants as Martha Stewart and former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. In short, the government must now prove that the statement was false and the person making the false statement knew that making a false statement was unlawful.