Illegally attempting to evade paying taxes, or intentionally underpaying taxes, is a serious offense in the United States. This offense, commonly referred to as “tax fraud,” carries heavy penalties at both the state and federal levels, some of which are briefly discussed below. However, it should be noted that “tax avoidance” (taking advantage of the tax code in a legal manner in order to minimize your tax liability) and “tax negligence” (careless/unintentional mistakes made on a tax return) do not constitute tax fraud. Rather, the IRS’s definition of tax fraud includes any of the following actions:
- Willfully attempting to evade or defeat any tax
- Willfully failing to file a required tax return
- Willfully declaring, under penalties of perjury, that a tax return or other tax document is true and correct when said person does not believe it to be so
- Willfully and knowingly aiding or assisting another in the preparation or presentation of a false or fraudulent tax document
- Attempting to intimidate or impede a tax official from carrying out his/her duties
Additionally, it should also be noted that under most states’ tax codes, tax evasion is typically defined as an act (or inaction) that involves a taxpayer intentionally paying less than they are legally obligated to pay.
Civil Penalties and Criminal Penalties
It is important to note that tax fraud is a broad area of the law that encompasses both civil and criminal penalties. While criminal tax fraud generally carries much steeper penalties than civil tax fraud, the penalties associated with civil tax fraud can still be quite steep. For example, the federal civil penalty for filing a fraudulent tax return is generally 75 percent of the underpayment amount. While civil penalties for tax fraud can take a big toll on your wallet criminal penalties are generally much worse. For example, consider the following federal criminal penalties outlined below:
- Attempting to evade or defeat a tax: Punishable by imprisonment for up to five years, and/or a fine of up to $250,000 (for individuals), plus the costs of prosecution.
- Willfully failing to collect or pay over a tax: Punishable by imprisonment for up to five years, and/or a fine of up to $250,000 (for individuals), plus the costs of prosecution.
- Willfully failing to file a tax return: Punishable by imprisonment for up to one year, and/or a fine of up to $100,000 (for individuals), plus the costs of prosecution.
- Willfully making false or fraudulent statements: Punishable by imprisonment for up to three years, and/or a fine of up to $250,000 (for individuals), plus the costs of prosecution.
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If you have been charged with tax fraud, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer in San Francisco for help in defending against these charges.
Thanks to the Morales Law Firm for their insight into criminal law and your constitutional rights.