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Official Certificates

Official Certificates or Writings - 18 U.S. Code § 1018

Public officers are sworn to act to uphold public trust within their office, including ensuring that any official documentation or certification they issue is accurate to the best of their knowledge. 

If a public officer knowingly issues a certificate or official writing with false information included, it's a federal crime under Title 18 U.S. Code 1018. If you're accused of violating this law, you could face up to one year in federal prison if convicted.

Official Certificates or Writings - 18 U.S. Code § 1018

Simply put, Title 18 U.S.C. 1018 makes it a federal offense for any public officer to issue an official certificate or writing (i.e., representing it as truth) while knowing it contains any false statement or information. 

This includes any false statements or misrepresentations made in the certificate or writing, whether written, printed, or signed. This law applies to "public officer or other person authorized by any law of the United States," meaning all federal, state, and local public officers. 

In simplest terms, if you're a public official and you certify something, you're saying within your official capacity that it's true. If you know something is false within it and you certify it anyway, it's a crime.

18 U.S. Code 1018 Official certificates or writings says, “Whoever, being a public officer or other person authorized by any law of the United States to make or give a certificate or other writing, knowingly makes and delivers as true such a certificate or writing, containing any statement which he knows to be false, in a case where the punishment thereof is not elsewhere expressly provided by law, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.”

Related 18 U.S. Code 1019 Certificates by consular officers says, “Whoever, being a consul, or vice consul, or other person employed in the consular service of the United States, knowingly certifies falsely to any invoice, or other paper, to which his certificate is authorized or required by law, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.”

What Are the Elements of the Crime?

To convict someone under Title 18 U.S. Code 1018, the prosecution must prove several elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The accused must be a public officer or authorized person. This includes individuals authorized by U.S. law to make or give certificates or other writings.
  2. The accused must knowingly make and deliver a certificate or writing. They must know they are creating and delivering an official document or certificate.
  3. The certificate or writing must contain a false statement. The document or certificate created by the accused must contain knowingly untrue information.
  4. The accused must know of the falsity of the statement. They must be aware that the information they are presenting is false.
  5. The accused must have the intent to deceive. They must have knowingly presented the false information with the purpose of misleading others.

What Are Some Examples?

EXAMPLE 1: David, a school principal, is authorized by law to issue academic transcripts for students. To help a student get into a prestigious university, he knowingly falsifies the student's grades on the official transcript. He then issues this transcript as true to the university. Intentionally delivering a false document as true could be considered a violation of 18 U.S.C. 1018.

EXAMPLE 2: Sarah, a public health officer, is authorized to issue health certificates for restaurants in her city. A friend who owns a restaurant approaches her for a favor. Despite knowing that the restaurant has several health code violations, she issues a health certificate stating that the restaurant meets all health standards. Sarah can be charged under 18 U.S.C. 1018.

What Are the Related Federal Statutes?

18 U.S. Code Chapter 47, fraud and false statements, contains numerous federal statutes that are related to 18 U.S.C. 1002, including the following: 

  • 18 U.S.C. 1001 - Statements or entries generally,  
  • 18 U.S.C. 1002 - Possession of false papers to defraud the United States,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1003 - Demands against the United States,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1004 - Certification of checks,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1005 - Bank entries, reports, and transactions,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1006 - Federal credit institution entries, reports, and transactions,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1007 - Federal Deposit Insurance transactions,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1010 - Department of Housing and Urban Development and Federal Housing Administration transactions,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1011 - Federal land bank mortgage transactions,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1012 - Department of Housing and Urban Development transactions,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1013 - Farm loan bonds and credit bank debentures,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1014 - Loan and credit applications generally; renewals and discounts; crop insurance,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1015 - Naturalization, citizenship, or alien registry,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1016 - Acknowledgment of appearance or oath,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1017 - Government seals wrongfully used and sealed,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1018 - Official certificates or writings,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1019 - Certificates by consular officers,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1020 - Highway project,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1021 - Title records,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1022 - Delivery of certificate, voucher, receipt for naval property,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1023 - Insufficient delivery of money or property for military service,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1024 - Purchase or receipt of military, naval, or veteran's facilities,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1025 - False pretenses on high seas and other waters,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1026 - Compromise, adjustment, or cancellation of farm indebtedness,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1027 - False statements and concealment of facts in relation to documents required by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1028 - Fraud and related activity in connection with identification documents, authentication features, and information,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1028A - Aggravated identity theft,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1029 - Fraud and related activity in connection with access devices,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1030 - Fraud and related activity in connection with computers,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1031 - Major fraud against the United States,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1032 - Concealment of assets from conservator, or liquidating agent,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1033 - Crimes by or affecting persons engaged in the business of insurance whose activities affect interstate commerce,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1034 - Civil penalties and injunctions for violations of section 1033,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1035 - False statements relating to health care matters,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1036 - Entry by false pretenses to any real property, vessel, or aircraft of the United States or secure area of any airport or seaport,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1037 - Fraud and related activity in connection with electronic mail,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1038 - False information and hoaxes,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1039 - Fraud and related activity in connection with obtaining confidential phone records information of a covered entity,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1040 - Fraud in connection with major disaster or emergency benefits.

What Are the Potential Penalties?

Violating 18 U.S.C. 1018 is considered a federal misdemeanor offense. If you're convicted, you could face:

  • A fine of up to $100,000 and
  • Up to 1 year in federal prison.

What Are the Defenses for 18 U.S.C. 1018?

A skilled federal criminal defense attorney can employ several strategies to combat the charges if you're accused of violating 18 U.S.C. 1018 by including a false statement on an official certification or writing. Common defenses include:

  • Mistake of Fact: Your attorney may argue that you were unaware that the document contained false information or that you believed in good faith that the information was accurate.
  • Lack of Intent to Deceive: If there was no intention to deceive others by presenting false information, this could also serve as a defense.
  • Not Acting as a Public Officer: If you were not authorized by any U.S. law to make or give certificates or writings—or if you were not acting in your official capacity—this could serve as a defense.
  • Coercion or Duress: If you can show that you were forced or threatened into issuing a false document out of fear for your safety or that of someone else, you could use coercion or duress as a defense.

Contact our law firm to review the case details if you are under investigation or indicted for a federal offense. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, California. 

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