Can I Go to Jail for Errors on My Income Tax Returns?

Yes you can! With the caveat stated that most people do not go to jail because of errors on the return, criminal prosecutions take willfulness. There has to be some deliberate action on your part to mess up the return or to conceal income or hide expenses in some way. If there's no evidence of willfulness, prosecution is probably not likely but in the course of the investigation, the auditor is looking for things called badges of fraud. They're looking for evidence that you manipulated the numbers on your return in order to lower your taxable liability. If the errors are serious enough, it'll trigger a referral to the Criminal Investigation Division of the IRS. So while the chances of jail are not exactly likely, if you've got a serious error on the return and you suspect willfulness it can and will trigger a criminal referral which is something that you don't want to deal with.

The best thing to do is if there are errors on the return and you think willfulness or the assumption of willfulness on the part of the auditor is likely, get a tax attorney involved and let them mitigate your risk as soon as possible. Criminal matters are very difficult to deal with and they cause a lot of problems having a CID agent investigating your file. So the easiest thing to do is defeat the presumption that there is any willfulness associated with the error and move past the issue as quickly as possible.


Sam Brotman, JD, LLM, MBA

Owner and Director of Legal
Brotman Law