DOJ “Willfully” Corrects Its Stance on False Statement Prosecutions: Change Could Have Major Impact on Future White Collar Investigations and Prosecutions
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently adopted a more defense-friendly position on criminal prosecutions under a commonly used federal charging statute, False Statement to Government Agency, 18 U.S.C. §1001 (“Section 1001”). To be convicted under Section 1001, a person must act “willfully” in making false statements to federal investigators. Courts are divided over whether Section 1001’s “willfulness” element requires proof that the defendant knew his or her conduct was unlawful.
However, in recent court filings, DOJ has quietly clarified that in order to prove a defendant acted willfully, federal prosecutors must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew his or her statement was unlawful - not just that the statement was false. This is a material change in the government’s position that could have a significant impact on future white collar investigations and prosecutions.