When people are initially questioned by police, either in their cars or elsewhere, it’s often their first instinct to lie. These lies might be relatively minor, like “No, I haven’t had anything to drink at all today” to extremely serious, like “My roommate was with me all evening,” when the police know exactly where your roommate was and that he likely committed a felony or two.
The fact is that while only lying under oath is considered “perjury,” lies to law enforcement officers and authorities can lead to criminal charges and even incarceration. It depends on how material the lie is to the investigation.
A lie can be considered “obstruction of justice”
If a lie hampers an investigation or causes authorities to go looking in the wrong direction, it could be considered an obstruction of justice. Saying that you don’t remember something you do can potentially have the same consequences – particularly if it’s something you couldn’t reasonably have forgotten.
Federal authorities really don’t like to be lied to. Wealthy, famous, powerful people from Martha Stewart to a former governor have gone to federal prison for lying.
The Fifth Amendment doesn’t give you the right to lie to protect yourself
Some people actually think the Fifth Amendment allows them to lie to authorities since it protects people from having to say anything that could incriminate them. However, if you want Fifth Amendment protections, you have to assert that right (respectfully but firmly) to those doing the questioning if you’re under arrest and then not answer the questions. If you’re not under arrest, you typically don’t have to answer anything but basic questions like your name. The Fifth Amendment doesn’t protect you if you lie to authorities.
No matter how intelligent you may be, the person in authority who’s questioning you has far more experience with this than you do. Don’t assume that you can fool a law enforcement officer. Your best course of action is to invoke your right to legal counsel (under the Sixth Amendment) as soon as possible and let them take it from there. If you’ve already lied to authorities, they can also help you work to repair the damage.