Tax Crimes and Defenses: Points to Remember

By Megan L. Brackney and Caroline D. Ciraolo
ABA Section of Taxation Newsquarterly
Spring 2010 Edition

This article outlines the elements of the most commonly-charged tax crimes, as well as many potential defenses and statutes of limitations issues.

Willfulness: ignorance of the law is an excuse. Tax crimes are unique in that ignorance of the law can be a complete defense. This is because “willfulness” is defined as an intentional violation of known legal duty. United States v. Abboud, 438 F.3d 554, 581 (6th Cir. 2006) (“[b]ecause of the complexity of the tax system, tax law is one of the few areas where the Supreme Court has held that ignorance of the law is a defense.”) (citing Cheek v. United States, 498 U.S. 192, 199-200 (1991)). Attorneys representing a client accused of a Title 26 crime should consider whether the conduct at issue was the result of negligence, mistake of fact, or ignorance of the contents of the tax return.

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