Any criminal defense attorney will advise their clients that it is never a good idea to speak to police without the presence of your lawyer. When you talk to the police on your own, bad things can and will happen. It is very rare that you can clear your name without getting yourself into further trouble.
There are two particular dangers of speaking with police on your own:
- You may say something that incriminates yourself and gives law enforcement more ammunition to charge or convict you.
- You might make a false statement to investigators and get in further trouble, facing a possible false statements charge.
Wisconsin State Laws Prohibit False Statements or Impeding Law Enforcement
A Wisconsin law criminalizes making false statements to police. Wis. Stat. § 946.41(1) is a very broad law. The law reaches any attempt to interfere with an officer when that officer is doing an act in their physical capacity. There are two ways to interfere with a police officer:
- Physically resisting and impeding their actions
- Making a false statement that will obstruct them in their official duties
Making a false statement to a police officer under state law is punished as a Class A misdemeanor. These are the most serious non-felony charges in the state. A Class A misdemeanor is punishable by:
- Up to nine months in prison
- A fine of up to $10,000
A false statements charge will be in addition to any other type of criminal charges you may face. While punishment may run concurrently, being charged with making false statements will undermine your credibility if you are testifying in your defense. A jury may tend to believe you less if there are any accusations about your honesty. Prosecutors are looking to do anything that they can to undermine your credibility.
False Statements Must Be Knowing and Material
False statements must be considered material to be legally actionable. For example, if you told law enforcement that something was red when it was actually blue, that may not be considered material unless it had a direct impact on the matter they were investigating. In other words, minor and trivial false statements may not result in charges.
In addition, false statements are a crime that requires intent. You must knowingly make a false statement with the intent of misleading the government. If you were mistaken about something, you would not be considered as acting with the intent to mislead because you simply made an error. Still, you do not want to be in the position of having to argue that something was not material or that you did not know a key fact when you spoke. It will only add to your legal troubles.
The old adage of the cover-up being worse than the crime often proves true. We have seen numerous instances in which law enforcement decided not to charge someone with the underlying crime that they were initially investigating but still decided to file charges for false statements. Someone who was otherwise innocent ends up with a criminal record and possible jail time because they thought that they could throw off investigators.
False statement charges can happen regardless of the subject of the underlying investigation. They can be brought in complex murder investigations or white-collar cases. In fact, they are very frequent in non-violent criminal cases.
Federal Law Also Harshly Punishes False Statements
The same thing is true if you have been contacted by a federal prosecutor or the FBI. In many ways, the federal statute regarding false statements is even tougher than the state law. 18 USC 1001 is also very broad. The law prohibits knowingly and willfully making false or fraudulent statements or concealing information in “any matter within the jurisdiction” of the federal government. Violating this law is a felony, and it can lead to a jail sentence of up to five years.
There have been numerous high-profile instances over the years where defendants have been charged under the federal statute for misleading investigators. For example, when Martha Stewart went to jail in a stock trading scandal, she was not convicted of insider trading. What sent the icon to jail was making false statements to federal investigators and obstruction of justice. The securities fraud charges that were at the heart of her case were thrown out, but the cover-up is what led to her conviction.
Always Hire and Listen to a Lawyer
The lesson to be learned is that you should never try to handle your criminal case on your own. There are only downsides to trying to be your own lawyer. If you are contacted by law enforcement, and you do not have a lawyer, it is time to get one. Even if you have not hired a lawyer yet, there is nothing that says that you must talk to them.
There are some cases where your lawyer may feel that it is advantageous to talk to law enforcement. For example, they may seek an interview with you before making a decision whether to press charges. Sometimes, your interview with a prosecutor is instrumental in explaining your side of the story and clearing up any misunderstandings. However, you should only give this interview on the advice of your lawyer and after they have thoroughly prepared you for it. Your lawyer will be present and carefully watching and listening.
Call an Appleton Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
If law enforcement is looking to talk to you, getting legal help immediately is a must. You do not want to make an error that will complicate your legal situation. When you hire a lawyer, law enforcement must go through them to talk to you once you tell them. The phrase “talk to my lawyer” may be the most powerful legal right you have. To get an attorney on your side, call the experienced lawyers at Hogan Eickhoff today at (920) 450-9800 or contact us online to schedule a free initial consultation. We are here for you whenever you need us.