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False Statements, Conspiracy, Aiding and Abetting, and Obstructing Justice

What is the crime of providing a “False Statement”?

False Statement to a Bank

This involves presenting financial information to a bank when requesting a loan. It is a federal crime for anyone to willfully make a false statement to a federally insured financial institution. Lending institutions rely upon a company’s financial statements in extending credit or granting a loan. An individual must intentionally make the false statement to the financial institution in order to secure some form of financial rights (such as a loan or guarantee). The statement must relate to a material fact or consideration that the individual knows to be false. A fact is material if it is an important consideration in the determination of whether or not to extend a financial benefit.

False Statement to a Federal Agency

The US Code makes it a federal crime for an individual to willfully and knowingly make a false or fraudulent statement to a department or agency of the United States. The false statement must be material in nature. Making a materially false statement to another person with knowledge that it will be transmitted to a federal agency is also a crime.

Note: Federal appellate courts recognize the “exculpatory no” exception for simple denials made in response to government questioning as part of a criminal investigation. This type of reaction to government questioning will not lead to charges of making a false statement.

Discussion: How does a false statement to a financial institution compare to a false statement to a governmental agency? Does criminal liability for a false statement to a governmental agency implicate the 1st Amendment?

Practice Question: Donnie needs capital to run his business. He goes to the local bank and talks with a loan officer. As part of the loan application process, Donnie must submit his business’s financial history. Donnie makes up some financial statements with false information about the business’s operations and sales. The bank relies on these statements in loaning $30,000 to Donnie’s business. Donnie’s business takes off and is successful. He is easily able to repay the loan. Has Donnie committed a crime?

What is the crime of “Conspiracy”?

Conspiracy involves an agreement between individuals to commit a crime. Conspiracy is a separate charge or crime than the crime agreed to by the parties. In a conspiracy, each member becomes the agent of the other member(s). Each person in the conspiracy does not have to know all of the details. Each person simply needs to understand that the plan is illegal and knowingly and willfully join in that plan on one occasion. The conspiracy or conspired act does not have to be successful. The formal elements of a conspiracy charge are as follows:

Multiple People – There must be 2 or more persons.

Mutual Understanding – In some way or manner, these people must come to a mutual understanding to try to accomplish a common and unlawful plan.

Willfulness – The defendant must willfully become a member of the conspiracy.

Overt Act – During the existence of the conspiracy, one of the conspirators must knowingly commit at least one of the “overt acts” described in the indictment (formal charge).

Purposeful Act – The overt act was knowingly committed in an effort to carry out or accomplish some objective of the conspiracy.

The essence of a conspiracy offense is the making of an agreement followed by the commission of any overt act in furtherance of that agreement. While direct evidence is preferable, circumstantial evidence may be used to prove a conspiracy.

Discussion: Do you think a person should be liable for conspiracy to commit a crime if they were not involved in the planning of the crime? What if conspirators solicit a third party to commit an illegal act that is part of the conspiracy, but the third party does not know about or agree upon the conspired scheme? How much evidence do you think must be present to demonstrate alleged conspirators have arrived at a mutual understanding?

Practice Question: Sarah, Jane, and Tommy need money to support their drug habits. They devise a plan to break into April’s house and rob her. As soon as they begin planning, Sarah realizes that this is a very bad idea. She tells Tommy and Jane that she made a mistake and she wants no part of the plan. Tommy and Jane, undeterred by Sarah backing out, go to April’s house to determine the best way to break in. A neighbor notices them creeping around the house and calls the police. The police arrest Tommy, Jane, and Sarah and charge them all with conspiracy. Will Sarah, Jane, and Tommy be found guilty of conspiracy? Why or why not?

What is the crime of “Obstruction of Justice”?

Obstruction of justice is an intentional act carried out with the intent to obstruct the legislative or judicial process. This charge seeks to protect legislative, judicial, and administrative proceedings.

Discussion: How do you feel about charging a friend or family member of an accused individual for harboring (hiding) that individual to prevent her arrest? What if a friend or family member withholds or fails to give to authorities any information that implicates a family member in a crime? What if a friend or family member specifically lies when questioned by authorities to prevent an arrest?

Practice Question: Barry witnesses a masked individual pull a pistol on two unsuspecting tourists and demand their valuables. He then watches the perpetrator run away down the street. At the end of the street, the perpetrator throws his weapon in the trashcan and continues to flee. Barry walks to the end of the street and removes the robber’s weapon from the trashcan. He likes the gun and decides to keep it for himself. When the police arrive on the scene, they question everyone in the area, including Barry. Barry refuses to answer the police questions and does not mention the weapon he found. Has Barry committed a crime?

What is “Aiding and Abetting” criminal activity?

Aiding and abetting involves providing assistance to someone accused of a crime. The assistance must relate to the criminal activity, such as assistance preparing to commit the crime, covering up the criminal activity, or evading law enforcement. This charge can be very similar to conspiracy. Under state law, the crime of aiding and abetting is often referred to as “accessory”. An individual can be an accessory before or after the commission of the crime. “Accessory before the fact” means that the individual helps in preparation of the criminal activity. “Accessory after the fact” means that the individual helps conceal or cover up the crime.

Discussion: When should offering general support to an individual who commits a crime constitute accessory? Is a person an accessory if she knowingly provides the accused with a weapon or tools to commit a crime? What if the third party simply provides information to the accused that is useful in committing the crime? What if a person allows the accused to stay with them after learning that there is a warrant for the accused’s arrest?

Practice Question: Hank commits a violent crime and is on the run from the police. Prior to committing the crime, he expressed to his friend, Joanna, that he needed a handgun to rob someone. Joanna, ever the loyal friend, helps him acquire the gun. After the crime is committed, Hank flees and asks his mother Edith for help in leaving the state. Edith allows Hank to take her vehicle and flee the state. Has Joanna or Edith committed crimes?

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