Perjury and False Statements
Perjury is a felony in federal and state courts throughout the nation.
It is always interesting to me that perjury is rarely charged, despite the fact that perjury is a regular occurrence every day in courts throughout the land. Judges know it; lawyers know it; and police certainly know it. If you persuade or convince someone to commit perjury, then you will have committed the crime of subornation. In federal courts, subornation of perjury is a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than five years and a fine.
Perjury is willfully testifying falsely under oath in an official court proceeding.
As a criminal defense lawyer for the past 40 years, I have witnessed perjury on too many occasions to count. It is a horrible thing when people commit perjury in court because the integrity of the proceeding is irreparably compromised. Perjury is very difficult to prove, but when it is proven, the punishment is severe since testifying falsely goes to the very heart of the judicial system.
If you are considering lying under oath, I urge you to immediately reconsider. If you are charged with perjury, which can easily occur, the penalties are severe. Your reputation, built over a lifetime, will be destroyed forever if you are convicted of perjury. I have witnessed police officers lie under oath. They lose the cases they testify in and defendants who might be guilty of the crimes charged, or other crimes, go free. And, from that day on, the officer is known as a liar and has no credibility in the courtrooms in which they appear. Judges talk, just like everyone else. If a police officer or a lawyer is known as a liar, they are forever tainted. It is much better to remain silent, which is your constitutional right in most cases, than to get on the witness stand and lie. Sooner or later, the truth emerges.
Signing a document “under penalty of perjury” is also considered perjury and is also a crime.
If you are charged with a crime, you must discuss the case with your lawyer. It is essential that you be truthful with your lawyer so that he or she can protect your interests and represent you properly. Any good and ethical lawyer will do all within his or her power to dissuade you from committing perjury. It is a mistake to tell your lawyer that you intend to lie under oath because doing so triggers certain ethical obligations by your lawyer. And, as a practical matter, judges and jurors can usually detect perjury. The results are rarely good for the person who has perjured him or herself.
While I want to discourage anyone from committing perjury, I do not want to dissuade people from testifying truthfully in court, even when their version of the facts may be in dispute. People can interpret facts differently. In criminal cases, whether you are a witness or a defendant, if a law enforcement officer or a prosecutor threatens to charge you with perjury because they don’t like what you are going to testify about, you should immediately consult your criminal defense attorney. In order to be convicted of perjury, the prosecution must be able to prove that you had criminal intent when you did not state “the truth”. Honest people make mistakes – that’s not perjury.
The attorney client privilege exists for many reasons, including to enable you to speak candidly with your attorney. You should do so and remember always that it is better to say nothing than to give a false statement – under oath or not – when talking with police or other government officials, including prosecutors. Even if the false statement is not considered perjury, it can result in dire consequences. For example, giving a material false statement, knowingly and willfully to a federal law enforcement officer or in any matter within the jurisdiction of our three branches of government, can be convicted of a felony and imprisoned for up to five years in most instances, and up to eight years under certain circumstances. So, be smart. Protect yourself and your integrity.