For a false statement made under oath to be considered perjury, it must be in regard to a material (or pertinent) fact in the case. For example, lying about your age under oath in a court case will not be considered perjury unless your age is crucial to the question of law at hand. When a person testifies in a civil or criminal case, they will first be sworn under oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. To intentionally lie or misrepresent the truth in your testimony is a criminal offense. It is also unlawful to encourage another individual to commit perjury, an offense called subornation of perjury.
When a person is charged and convicted of perjury, they can face criminal penalties including significant fines and incarceration. Each state has their own laws regarding perjury and its consequences. The federal government has a few separate statutes for the crime of perjury. Under federal law, if a person intentionally and willfully states or subscribes any material matter which s/he does not reasonably believe to be true, may be charged with perjury. If convicted of this perjury, the defendant can face a significant fine and up to five years in jail. The same penalty is possible for a subornation of perjury conviction.
While the crime of perjury can be committed in both civil and criminal cases, perjury prosecutions arising from civil lawsuits are extremely rare. It can be more difficult in a civil case to prove that a witness is intentionally misstating or lying about a material fact. A perjury defendant can persuasively argue that they testified honestly, but perhaps from faulty memory, in many cases. Perjury charges in criminal cases are also rare. In 1996, US Sentencing Commission statistics indicated that in federal cases, only 86 of the 42,436 convicted criminal defendants were found guilty of perjury, encouraging perjury or bribing a witness.
In some cases perjury can be used as a threat, typically on the side of the prosecution, to coerce someone to provide more favorable information. While the prosecution will often threaten a witness, the number of actual prosecutions for perjury is diminutive. A prosecution may also try to get a witness in a perjury trap. A perjury trap is when the prosecution deliberately calls a grand jury witness with the goal of gathering information that will later but used to prosecute him for perjury.
If you would like to learn more about perjury, please contact us to speak with a qualified and experienced attorney who knows the perjury laws applicable to your case. An attorney can evaluate your case to determine how best to protect and maximize your legal rights.
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