Perjury is the crime of lying under oath. It is a very serious offense because, if not identified, the justice system cannot meet its goal: finding out the truth. Perjury is something that can affect everybody, and the consequences can be very serious. Consider, for instance, that President Bill Clinton was impeached because of it, Marion Jones was imprisoned, and Barry Bonds was prosecuted for it.
Throughout history, perjury has been defined as lying when providing testimony in court. Now, however, it covers all types of proceedings, including depositions in civil lawsuits, Congressional committee hearings, bail hearings, family law court, and grand juries. Additionally, any sworn statements made to federal agencies, and any financial affidavits, are also covered under perjury laws. Causing someone else to commit perjury is also a criminal offense, which is known as ‘suborning perjury’.
Perjury is covered under 18 U.S.C. Section 1621: Perjury Generally. This states that anyone who has taken an oath in a situation in which oaths can be administered, shall tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If they willfully do otherwise, making declarations that they do not believe to be true, they will have committed perjury.
Perjury Crimes & Charges
If someone is under oath and makes a statement that they know not to be true, that person is classed as having committed perjury. This statement must be ‘material’ to the proceedings, however, meaning that it relates to the case itself. As such, the following elements must be met in order to secure a perjury conviction:
- It can only happen when someone is under oath, meaning someone qualified to place others under oath has been involved. It must also happen in a ‘competent’ proceeding, which means it is legally authorized.
- A statement has to be made in order for perjury to happen. Pleading the fifth, refusal to answer, or silence are not classed as perjury, although they can lead to other charges. The statement can be in writing.
- There must be intent to mislead, in as such that the person making the statement must know it is untrue and must wish to mislead.
- The statement has to be completely false. It cannot be based on mistake or lapse of memory. Conflicts can happen, in which case, the prosecutors must prove which statement is true and which is not. It is also important to understand that making inconsistent statements can lead to perjury, although this is rare, as a defendant will usually be able to claim lapse of memory or simple mistake.
- The statement has to be made during an official proceeding, such as a court.
- The statement must be material, meaning it is relevant to the overall proceedings. If the statement turned out to be superfluous to the outcome of the case, someone may still be convicted of perjury.
The punishment for perjury does vary from one state to the next. However, if convicted under federal law, the defendant may face as much as five years in prison and/or a fine. Perjury is a felony in all states, meaning heavy sentences can be imposed. They usually start at one year, a fine, and a probation time. While not court-ordered, most people who are convicted of perjury also lose their livelihood. This is because truthfulness is valued in most professions. If you hold a licensed profession, such as certain public service jobs, law enforcement, and law, it is likely that you will lose your license.
Perjury Sentencing Guidelines
Sentencing will vary depending on the level of interference the perjury caused to the overall proceedings. If someone commits perjury in their own trial, their sentence is likely to increase, as this demonstrates bad character and lack of willingness to rehabilitate.
Judges can also impose sentences that go above and beyond the standard sentences for perjury. For instance, the defendant may be charged as an accessory if the non-truthful testimony was designed to help someone who was hiding a crime. A larger sentence will usually be incurred in these cases.
If someone is wrongly convicted based on the perjury of another, or if someone loses a case due to someone else’s perjury, there are no civil remedies available. However, they may have broken other laws for which there are civil remedies in place.
Perjury Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations for perjury under federal law is five years. Different states may have different statutes, however. Furthermore, the statute can be tolled if the offender is out of state or out of the country.
- Bob Pammett, a biker, has been sentenced to one year in prison for perjury. This was following his testimony to support his motorcycle gang, the Outlaws, Loners and Bandidos. It is only the second time in history that a resident of Campbellford has been charged and convicted of perjury. (The Peterborough Examiner)
- David Sher, a former law student, has been charged with perjury. It was alleged that he forged a jury verdict slip, changing it to ‘not guilty’, for his own larceny case. If convicted, Sher could face 20 years in state prison. (Boston CBS Global)
- Richard Alarcon, former LA Councilman, may be re-trialed on voter fraud and perjury charges. Alarcon and his family were already convicted of this, but the ruling was overturned on appeal. This decision is now once again being appealed, with a motion for re-trial set in place. (Los Angeles Daily News)
- The Hilary Clinton email scandal took the world by storm. It is now suggested that somebody in the State Department protected Hilary Clinton from this scandal by committing perjury. It is not known who this person is yet, and investigations are ongoing. (Western Journalism)
- Kathleen Kane is being accused of perjury. Her lawyers have filed a motion to dismiss these charges, as they feel their client is being selectively and vindictively prosecuted for something no one has ever been prosecuted for. (The Morning Call)
Perjury Quick Links & References
Perjury Laws by State
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming