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The consequences of lying to law enforcement authorities

On Behalf of | Apr 7, 2023 | Criminal Defense

It’s a common assumption that as long as you’re not under oath or giving some kind of sworn written statement, there are no legal consequences for lying to law enforcement officers or other authorities. That’s not the case.

That doesn’t mean you’ll face charges for every lie you tell. However, depending on the seriousness and consequences of the lie (and the underlying crime), you could be charged with obstruction of justice or potentially other offenses.

The Fifth Amendment doesn’t give you the right to lie to authorities

Some people think that their Fifth Amendment rights protect them if they lie to police. That’s not true. You can assert your Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions if doing so could potentially incriminate you. That means not answering the question. It’s important to assert this right firmly but courteously to those doing the questioning rather than just refusing to speak.

A lot of people lie during traffic stops. They lie about not realizing they were speeding (or making up a reason for speeding), not having consumed any alcohol or not having any idea how those drugs ended up in their car. Typically, police won’t tack on another charge for that, but there’s no guarantee.

Saying you don’t remember when you do is also a lie

People often think that, if they’re being questioned by officers regarding a crime, a safe way out is to say that they don’t remember various things. Who can prove what they can or can’t remember? 

In some cases, it can be proven that you recall something if you told others about it or if it’s just unreasonable that you wouldn’t remember something – like a friend confessing to you that they shot someone or asking you to hide some stolen goods. Again, you could be looking at an obstruction of justice charge, at least, if your failure to be truthful with authorities impedes an investigation. If you do this under oath, you could be charged with perjury.

People too often get into legal trouble – or make matters worse for themselves – by thinking they can outsmart law enforcement or talk their way out of something. That’s why it’s always wise to get legal guidance as soon as possible if you’re going to be dealing with law enforcement.