You take the witness, stand at trial and solemnly swear to tell the truth. And sometimes, for some inexplicable reason, something entirely different comes out of your mouth. Isn’t this how you imagine lying under oath is? Additionally, lying under oath is a criminal offense we call perjury. Therefore, we can say, that a person giving testimony on the stand during a court case who tells a lie can be charged with perjury. But that is not all. You can be charged with perjury in many other cases. For example, if you lie during a deposition or lie on a signed declaration, the courts may charge you with perjury.
It turns out, that we make statements under oath a lot more frequently than we realize. Imagine yourself filling out an application for a driver’s license. At that point, you are typically supplying information under oath. The same thing goes for singing your tax return, submitting divorce related documents to the court, etc. Moreover, you are presenting facts and phrases when you sign anything. And it is possible that in one of those documents that you are signing may be a statement saying that you’re declaring under penalty of perjury that the information you’re submitting is true. So, we don’t only lie under oath when standing at a trail and swearing to tell the truth.
Requirements of perjury
One important thing that you should keep in mind is that perjury requires that the lie you have told is “material.” The meaning of this is that your lie has a direct effect on the outcome of the matter you have lied about.
Let’s go over an example. So you decide to dedicate your whole weekend to doing your taxes. Then you put your glasses on. Try to remove anything from the table that can spill on the papers and ruin your hard work. And for some reason, after you are finished, you sign a tax return that does not report all your income. This would be a perjury. And the reason behind is that the lie by omission directly affects what you owe in taxes.
Now, let’s go over a different example. Imagine yourself standing at trail, all tall and fearless. Then you say that you lived in Oregon when you never actually set foot in the state. So, what you did was lying under oath. However, this would be perjury only if the issue of your presence there has some bearing on the case. For example, if you are testifying about a crime which took place in Oregon and you are claiming to have witnessed it. Moreover, you must have known that what you are saying is untrue. And, of course, you must make the statement under oath, proving that it is true.
Some possible defenses
Moving on, if you make a statement that is not honest it is possible to raise certain defenses if you are subsequently charged with perjury. The good news is that it is possible for you to take back or recant your statement. However, time is essential here. I mean, you cannot recant years later if you have realized you are in big trouble because of what you said. But if years have not passed yet, you can try to convince the court that you did not lie. Maybe you simply did not understand the question to which your answer was a lie. Furthermore, perjury requires a willful untruth. Therefore, an honest error or misunderstanding can sometimes be raised as a defense.
Lying under oath: penalties
Penalties for perjury can depend on the sentiments of the judge and the severity of what happened because of the lie. Of course, it all depends on the state you are in. Some states have stricter rules and some are more forgiving. But all things considered, let’s go over this example. Imagine an innocent defendant. Because of your misstatement, he/she was convicted and sent to prison. If your lie under oath was revealed, you might have received a prison term of two to four years in states like California.
But the penalties of a perjury can be less serious. For example, if your alimony order is half what it should be because you told the court a lie in your divorce documents, you probably will just get a slap on the wrist and an adjusted alimony order. But you can also face criminal charges or civil sanctions. For example, having to make an extra monetary payment to your previous spouse to compensate could be your punishment.
In many states, perjury is a felony. However, the judge could still just place you on probation if the result of your lie is not very serious. If your perjury involves the federal government, such as lying on your tax return, you risk a minimum of a year in prison, plus fines. And if you are in trouble, you should immediately find yourself an experienced lawyer.