Perjury refers to someone who falsely takes an oath to tell the truth. In court proceedings, witnesses are sworn in with oaths to tell the truth. If they lie, they are committing perjury.
In some states, perjury only occurs if the witness lies about something that is material to the case. If they lie about their age or occupation and it is irrelevant to the case, it would not be considered perjury.
Is Perjury a Crime?
Yes, because perjury can obstruct the justice system. Federal Law statutes consider perjury as a felony that carries up to 5 years imprisonment. In California, any perjury that results in wrongful execution is considered a capital offense. In those circumstances, perjury becomes attempted murder or murder.
Other countries consider perjury to be a serious offense too. Queensland, Australia considers perjury a felony and, depending on the circumstances, can lead to life imprisonment. Other countries like France and Italy do not have perjury laws as they do not have affirmations or oaths prior to testimony.
What Is Considered Perjury?
Any lie that is told after taking an oath or understanding that your statement is made “under penalty of perjury” is considered perjury. For example, tax returns include a signed statement that everything is true and correct. If you were to incorrectly fill out a tax return, you might be tried for perjury and be imprisoned for up to three years.
If your statement involves an interpretation of fact, then you cannot be charged with perjury. The law allows for honest mistakes and unwitting incorrect conclusions as long as there is no intention to deceive. Some people may recall things inaccurately or have made a mistaken belief based on the small number of facts known to them.
To be convicted of perjury, a prosecutor needs to prove:
- Intention to commit perjury
- That the suspect actually committed perjury
Lies by omission are not perjury, and lying about matters that are irrelevant to the case being tried are not perjury.