Imparting or Conveying False Information – 18 U.S.C. § 35
Imparting or conveying false information can be charged by federal prosecutors under specific circumstances and the penalties are severe if convicted. Put simply, this statute often deals with hoaxes, such as bomb threats.
18 U.S. Code 35 describes this offense as anyone who willfully and maliciously, or with reckless disregard for human safety, imparts, conveys, or causes false information to be conveyed, knowing the information is false, related to an attempt, or alleged attempt being made.
When lies concern the federal government, though, the consequences can be serious. If you've been charged with conveying false information, you probably have lots of questions.
If convicted, you could be facing large fines and time in federal prison for up to five years. When it comes to issues of federal law, the answers can be complex. This is a good place to start, though, to find out just what you might be facing.
Our federal criminal defense attorneys will review the laws more closely below.
False Information and Hoaxes
There are several parts of the U.S. Code dealing with “false information.” Generally speaking, the government prefers that the people it deals with be truthful in all matters.
18 U.S. Code § 35, for example, makes it a crime to impart false information in criminal cases involving aircraft or motor vehicles. For the most part, though, “conveying false information” typically refers to “hoaxes.” Examples might include:
- Bomb threats,
- False reports of homicides or other criminal acts,
- Fake fire alarms,
- Terroristic threats.
This crime is covered under 18 U.S. Code § 1038, which specifically prohibits “any conduct with intent to convey false or misleading information” about activities that have taken place, are taking place, or will take place.
Why would this type of lying be a crime? There are several reasons. At a minimum, hoaxes tie up and waste public resources. When emergency services show up at a school in response to a bomb threat, it costs taxpayers money, even if the threat isn't real.
Meanwhile, those emergency services aren't available if someone genuinely needs them. If you are convicted under 18 U.S. Code § 1038, you will be fined and possible imprisonment for up to five years.
Further, you will be facing civil action and will be held liable to any party incurring expenses for any emergency or investigative response. In other words, you will be ordered to pay reimbursement costs for your actions.
Hoaxes can lead to far worse consequences, though. False accusations can ruin lives, and in some situations, people have died because emergency personnel responded to what they thought was a real threat.
What are the Penalties?
As with all crimes, the punishment for conveying false information can vary depending on the nature of the crime itself. The U.S. Code mandates that under normal circumstances, someone who is convicted should be sentenced to not more than five years in prison or a fine.
However, if serious bodily injury results from false information, the maximum sentence is raised to 20 years. If death should result, it is possible to be sentenced to life in prison. The law prescribes additional penalties, however, beyond prison time and fines.
Those found guilty can also be required to reimburse the government for any services that were used as a result of the false information. In addition, the law specifically allows for civil action to be brought against offenders.
Other Types of “False” Statements
There are many other ways that lying can get you in trouble with federal authorities. Chapter 47 of Title 18 deals with “Fraud and False Statements” and covers a range of activities, including:
- 18 U.S. Code § 1005 – bank entries, reports, and transactions,
- 18 U.S. Code § 1011 – federal land bank mortgage transactions,
- 18 U.S. Code § 1012 – department of urban housing transactions,
- 18 U.S. Code § 1015 – lying to immigration officials,
- 18 U.S. Code § 1017 – government seals wrongfully used,
- 18 U.S. Code § 1027 – concealing income for retirement benefits,
- 18 U.S. Code § 1028 – fraud-related activity with identification,
- 18 U.S. Code § 1029 – fraud-related activity with access devices,
- 18 U.S. Code § 1030 – fraud activity related to computers,
- 18 U.S. Code § 1031 – major fraud committed against the United States,
- 18 U.S. Code § 1032 – concealing assets from conservator,
- 18 U.S. Code § 1035 – false statements on health care matters,
- 18 U.S. Code § 1040 – fraudulently obtaining emergency funds in the wake of a natural disaster.
Defenses to the Charge of Conveying False Information
Of course, just because you've been charged with conveying false information doesn't mean you are guilty of this offense. A qualified defense attorney can use several legitimate defenses to make sure you aren't convicted.
One useful protection in these cases is the First Amendment. Under the First Amendment, you have the right to free speech.
This right is not unlimited, and speech that causes harm to others is not protected. Still, it is sometimes possible to argue that the information you gave authorities wasn't criminal in nature.
Prosecutors must be able to establish your intent to prove you are guilty of conveying false information. It can sometimes be difficult to establish whether a person made a false statement or was acting out of a genuine belief that they or others were in danger.
In short, you may be able to claim that you did not know the information was false or that you did not intend it to cause harm.
In the end, it is important to be truthful to the US government. Lying—even when the lie may seem innocuous—can wind up costing us all. Even so, you have rights, and you should never simply accept a charge if you believe you acted in good faith.
If you are under investigation or already indicted for a federal crime related to false statements or fraud, then you will need to consult with experienced legal representation.
Reach out to our law firm to review all the details and to discuss potential legal options moving forward for the best possible outcome on the case.
Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles County and serves people charged with a federal offense across the United States. Contact us for an initial consultation at 877-781-1570 or fill out our contact form.