Liberals and, especially, libertarians, have unending heartburn about imposing criminal punishment for non-violent, regulatory offenses. One particular provision that gives them fits is the federal false statements statute, 18 USC 1001, which makes it a felony for a person to make a false or deceptive statement to any department or agency of the United States in any matter within the agency's jurisdiction.
Having some libertarian sympathies, I can understand, at least, the misgivings about criminalizing such statements. I am not alone in this. The most prominent example of judicial willingness effectively to circumvent the false statements statute lay in many courts' acceptance of the "exculpatory no" doctrine, in which an interviewee's simple, though false, denial of wrongdoing in response to an investigator's question was held to be outside the statute. (The "exculpatory no" doctrine was brought to an end in 1998 in Brogan v. United States).
It is true that Section 1001 is potentially subject to abuse by prosecutors. On the other hand, it would be hard to find a statute that is not "potentially" subject to abuse. It seems to me to be very much an overdrawn conclusion that potential abuse outweighs the damage to legitimate governmental functions that can be caused by lying. I also think libertarians focus on the perils of excessive government to the unhealthy exclusion of understanding the moral rot, and the damage, created by our present culture of deceit. That, however, is a subject for a post of its own.
For the moment, I want to return to the question posed by the title of this post, namely, whether we should criminally punish non-violent, regulatory offenses. I would simply ask readers to decide for themselves.