Perjury charges are accusations brought against a person for knowingly making false statements after taking an oath to tell the truth. As a general rule, these charges are filed regarding a civil or criminal case in which the false statements materially impacted the investigation or the case at hand. The act of perjury is criminal in nature and is usually considered a felony. If charges of perjury are proven, the defendant may face hefty fines. The defendant may also be sentenced to serious prison time — up to 15 or more years in some cases.
In order to prove perjury charges, the prosecution usually needs to show that the defendant gave a false statement under oath. In addition, the prosecution must also demonstrate that the defendant knew the statement was false. Typically, the defendant must have lied about an issue that was material to the case. If a witness to a murder case lied about his or her birth date, for example, perjury would not have been committed because the birth date would have nothing to do with the murder. On the other hand, if the witness lied about finding the murder weapon, perjury may have been committed.
Although the elements of perjury charges sound straightforward, they can be difficult to prove. Defense attorneys may, for instance, argue that the prosecutor’s questions were not worded clearly, which impacted the defendant’s answer. Additionally, a defendant may claim that he or she misspoke based on a faulty memory rather than intending to deliberately lie to the court. Statements that are merely misleading or ambiguous usually do not rise to the level of perjury. Instead, the law requires that the statement be completely false.
Subornation of perjury, which is also a crime, occurs when one person convinces another person to lie while under oath. It can take place in either a criminal or a civil case. For example, if a lawyer lies during a closing statement in court, the lawyer may be charged with subornation of perjury. A lawyer may also be found guilty of subornation of perjury if the lawyer allows or convinces a witness to lie while under oath. Lawyers found guilty of subornation of perjury can be disciplined or disbarred. In some cases, they may even face jail time.
Other individuals can also be convicted of subornation of perjury. For instance, suppose that a defendant in a theft case coerces a witness into lying on the stand by stating the defendant was with the witness in another city at the time of the theft. The defendant may be charged with subornation of perjury for encouraging the witness to make a false statement in court. In that scenario, perjury charges may also be brought against the witness for lying while under oath.