Defending Perjury Cases
The purpose of the article is to provide individuals accused of perjury with basic practical information including, charges, penalties and possible defenses. It has also been designed to give an overview for readers who are interested in perjury cases. It is not intended as a substitute for qualified legal counsel, nor does it constitute legal advice.
Perjury is defined as willfully giving incomplete, misleading, or simply false testimony while under oath. It is usually used to refer to a court trial. There is also perjury by making false statements in some official capacity. Some legal documents are signed “under penalty of perjury,” meaning that if someone lies about anything on that form, they could face perjury charges.
There are two elements that are required to charge a person with perjury. The first element is intent. The person who is perjuring themselves must intend for the lie to be deliberate and not accidental or unknowing. If the witness believes that he or she is telling the truth, the testimony is not perjury, although it may cause confusion during a legal proceeding or for a jury, it is not a crime. The second element is that the lie during testimony must be relevant to the trial by having a direct impact on the outcome. If the witness lies about something which is not relevant, such as their age it is not seen very favorably but it is not perjury. Outside of the courtroom if someone falsifies information on a document such as a tax return and the document states “under penalty of perjury” it is in fact perjury. The crime of getting another person to commit perjury is called subornation of perjury. If a person who is giving testimony during a criminal proceeding and later changes their statement during testimony they can escape the charge of perjury.
Most people who are charged with perjury are caught because of other evidence or testimony that conflicts with the statements or written declarations of the person being charged. In the case of a written declaration “under penalty of perjury” facts come to light that do not support the claims of the person who signed or authenticated a document to be true. An example of this would be falsifying tax documents; if it comes to light the person knowingly hid said income they could be charged with perjury. In legal proceedings, if other witnesses or evidence conflicts with the original statements made by a person and the other witnesses or evidence is credible then a person may be charged with perjury.
The penalties for perjury vary from state to state. Perjury charges are rarely prosecuted, but if they are and the person is convicted, they can face a significant fine as well as jail time. In California the punishment ranges from fines and probation and no jail time first time offender up to four years in state prison. In Virginia perjury is a class 5 felony which is punishable with a great deal of discretion on the part of the judge. The sentence ranges from six months in the county jail (maximum), a fine of not more than $2,500 or a state prison sentence from one to ten years.
Federal law defines perjury as a felony and provides for a prison sentence of up to five years in prison. Federal tax law provides criminal penalties of up to three years in prison for violation of the tax return perjury statute. The most serious charge of perjury occurs when false statements or testimony result in the death of another after the fact. If that is the case a person could potentially face the death penalty in some jurisdictions.
Perjury is a fairly uncomplicated crime and as such perjury cases can be defended. It is up to the prosecuting agency to prove that statement made or documents signed were done so with specific intent to perjure. A person could feasibly contend that they believed that the testimony given and or documents signed were to the best of their knowledge truthful and forthright at the time testimony or signatures were given. If the person is on the stand, they can still recant or change their testimony while they are under oath and will not be charged.