The Truth About Perjury

You hear it all the time on TV dramas and in the movies. A person perjures himself thereby creating legal trouble for himself and often for others. Perjury is a crime that carries a significant sentence. It is, therefore, important to understand the truth about what perjury is and what the consequences of perjury are before you testify under oath in any type of proceeding.
Perjury is a Crime
While many people consider perjury and lying to be interchangeable terms, they are different. Perjury is a federal crime, and like all federal crimes, certain elements must be present in order for a person to be guilty of the crime. The federal crime of perjury is defined in the U.S. Code at 18 USC 1621. According to that law a person perjures himself if:
·         He has taken an oath before a competent tribunal, officer, or person,
·         In any case in which a law of the United States authorizes an oath to be administered,
·         That he will testify, declare, depose, or certify truly, or that any written testimony, declaration, deposition, or certificate by him subscribed, is true, and
·         He willfully and contrary to such oath states or subscribes any material matter which he does not believe to be true.
Therefore, all lying does not constitute perjury. A person must have taken a proper oath promising to be truthful and the untruth must be about a material fact. For example, if a person lies about the number of children he has to hide the fact that he has an illegitimate child and that fact is not pertinent to the car accident case in which he’s testifying then the fact is likely not considered material and a perjury charge is likely unjustified.
The states have similar statutes about perjury that are applicable if the perjury occurred pursuant to an oath given by a state court or in a state court proceeding.
Possible Criminal Sentences for Perjury
The usual federal sentence for perjury includes a fine, a prison term not to exceed five years, or both a fine and a prison term. Different sentences exist for those convicted of perjury under state law.
It is important to note that perjury, like all other crimes, requires a prosecutor to bring a lawsuit against the accused in court. It is not enough for an attorney to claim that you perjured yourself. In order to be sentenced, you must be formally charged with the crime and provided the same rights as other accused criminals including the right to a jury trial.
Hiring an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney
It is important to seek the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney if you have been formally charged with perjury so that all of your rights are protected and the strongest possible defense is mounted on your behalf. However, you might also seek the assistance of a criminal defense attorney earlier in the process. For example, you might seek the counsel of an attorney prior to testimony if you are concerned about telling the truth on the stand or you might seek counsel after your testimony if you believe that you may have perjured yourself.
The American system of justice is dependent on people respecting oaths and telling the truth. When people do not tell the truth under oath about material facts then a miscarriage of justice can occur. Therefore, perjury is a serious crime with a serious sentence and those accused of perjury should seek immediate legal representation.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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