Lying to police can result in criminal charges. It can be a crime whether you lie to protect yourself or someone else or to make false allegations against another person. Having difficulty remembering exactly what someone said, did, or wore isn't lying to police. Criminal charges come into play, rather, when someone knowingly lies and wants police to rely on that false information.
Yes, it can be. As a general rule, you aren't under any obligation to speak with the police. However, if you choose to talk to investigators or cops, it's never a good idea to lie. Below we'll discuss common crimes and penalties under state laws for knowingly lying to law enforcement. Not every state will have separate crimes for all of the following offenses. Some states combine several of these offenses under the crime of obstruction or another offense.
As noted above, a person who can't quite remember all the details of an offense isn't committing a crime. Neither is the person who reports a crime and misidentifies the suspect. The following crimes require the person to knowingly or willfully make a false or misleading statement that's material (important) to the investigation or inquiry and with the intent that law enforcement relies on it.
A person who lies to police during an investigation could face charges of making false or misleading statements to police or public officials. To commit this crime, most state laws require that the person knew the statement was false and intended to mislead police or hinder an investigation by making the statement. A person doesn't need to be under oath to commit this offense. Someone who lies in a police report has likely committed this crime.
For example, assume that you had a friend who is charged with a DUI. You and your friend had been out drinking the night he was arrested, and when the police learn this, they come to ask you questions. You tell the police that you only saw your friend have one or two drinks, even though you actually saw him have many more. You could be charged with making a false statement.
Lying to the police about a crime can lead to charges of obstruction of justice. People commit obstruction of justice when they willfully do anything to hinder, delay, or obstruct law enforcement officials in the performance of their official duties. This includes acts such as destroying evidence or communicating false or deceptive information.
In the above example, assume that the police come to your home to ask you questions about the night your friend was arrested for DUI. They ask to speak to you by name, but instead of admitting who you are, you give them a false name. You could be charged with obstruction of justice.
Some states have separate laws that address knowingly providing police with a false name. In other states, as shown above, this lie might fall under obstruction or other charges. A person commits this offense by providing an officer with a false name or somebody else's name in response to the officer's request while conducting an investigation, lawful stop or arrest, or other official duty. If you hand over a fake ID, that's an additional crime.
It's also a crime for a person to intentionally inform police that a crime was committed knowing that the information is false and intending that the officer relies on the information. In many states, you can be charged even if you didn't initiate the contact with the police. This crime typically applies regardless of whether your intent was to implicate another, deflect or hinder an investigation of yourself or another, or gain some other benefit (such as falsely reporting someone for child abuse to influence a child custody decision).
Say you collide with another car. You've been drinking and don't want to get a DUI, so you flee the scene. A witness to the crime writes down your license plate number and reports the hit and run to police. When police come to question you, you lie to police and say the other driver hit your car and fled (a crime). You could be charged with falsely reporting a crime, as well as a DUI and fleeing the scene of an accident.
You could face charges of being an accessory after the fact if you lie to the police about another person's crime. To be charged with this crime, you have to assist someone after that person commits a crime, with the intent to help that person avoid arrest, prosecution, or punishment.
Let's say, for example, that your friend comes to your house after driving while intoxicated and then running from the police. Soon after he arrives, the police show up. They ask you if you've seen your friend, and you tell them that you don't know where he is. Because you lied to the police knowing that it would help your friend avoid arrest, you can be charged with being an accessory after the fact.
In many states, crimes involving lying to police are misdemeanors that carry the possibility of up to a year in jail, fines, or both. The penalties, though, will vary by state. For instance, Georgia makes it a five-year felony to knowingly make a false statement to police. A similar offense in Texas is a class B misdemeanor. If you go to the extent of lying to aid an offender, many states charge this offense as a felony.
Your chances of going to jail for a conviction will depend on the circumstances of the case and your criminal history (if any). A first-time offender might receive a fine and be required to serve community service hours. Jail time will more likely be in the cards for someone with a criminal history or whose actions are particularly egregious.
If you have lied to, misled, or otherwise interfered with the authorities, or have been charged with a crime relating to such conduct, you need to speak to a criminal defense attorney right away. If the police accuse you of lying, you should usually ask to speak to an attorney before making any statements that might incriminate you.