Minnesota residents who are questioned by federal officials would be wise to consult with an attorney before answering any questions and make sure that anything they do say is truthful. This is because making false statements to representatives of the federal government is a serious crime that carries a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to $250,000. If the false statements are connected to terrorist activity, the penalties are even harsher.

Individuals convicted of making false statements are sometimes not even charged with the offense that prompted the federal investigation in the first place. This is what happened in the case involving the television celebrity Martha Stewart. Stewart was investigated for insider trading after she sold shares in a pharmaceutical company, but she was never charged with that crime. She was instead sentenced to five months in a federal prison for intentionally misleading federal investigators. U.S. attorneys may choose this strategy because making false statements is a relatively simple crime to prosecute.

Making false statements is referred to as a process crime because it hampers the procedures and processes of the justice system. To secure a conviction for making a false statement, U.S. attorneys must prove beyond reasonable doubt that a statement made to a government official was false, was made intentionally and was relevant to the business of the government department or agency involved.

Experienced criminal defense attorneys would likely advise any individual to ask for an attorney to be present before answering questions from law enforcement, especially when the questions are being asked by federal investigators and the penalties for making false statements are severe. Attorneys may remind individuals in this situation that the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that no person can be compelled to be a witness against themselves.