No one wants to be questioned by police officers, whether it's about their own activity or someone else's. People lie to police and other law enforcement agents for a variety of reasons: They don't want to be arrested, they're protecting someone else, they panic or they're just plain embarrassed about what they've done.
The Fifth Amendment Won't Protect You
Many people wrongly assume that lying to police isn't illegal. They figure that they're not under oath as they would be if they were testifying in court. Further, they know that they're protected from self-incrimination by the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment. Some even think the First Amendment, which covers free speech, lets them say anything -- true or not. However, not being required to say anything incriminating against oneself isn't the same as being allowed to lie.
What Charges Can You Face?
Depending on the severity of the alleged crime and the consequences of the lie itself, people can go to jail for intentionally telling the police something false. Lying to federal authorities and obstructing a federal investigation can land you in federal prison. Just ask Martha Stewart.
Usually the charge for lying to authorities is obstruction of justice. However, there are other charges that can be levied. Filing a false police report is a crime as well. People who do that can face criminal charges as well as civil action from anyone who suffered as a result of a false police report.
What About Traffic Stops?
Probably the most common lies people tell police involve trying to avoid getting a traffic ticket. Generally, you won't do any jail time for telling an officer you were racing to the hospital to see your grandchild born. However, one woman who told an officer she was speeding to the hospital on a suspended driver's license to visit her dying father (who'd been dead for years) found herself under arrest. No one likes to be duped, and police are no different.
You can courteously but firmly assert your Fifth Amendment rights to a law enforcement officer rather than answer questions. Criminal defense attorneys regularly advise clients not to answer questions unless they're present. Unfortunately, many people believe that they're more adept liars than they actually are. Sometimes, they say something that's false without realizing it. If you find yourself facing charges for lying to the police or other authorities, it's essential to seek legal guidance.
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