What is Perjury?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

In legal terms, perjury is defined as willfully giving incomplete, misleading, or simply false testimony while under oath. It is usually used to refer to testimony given during a court trial. Some legal documents are signed “under penalty of perjury,” meaning that if someone lies about anything on that form, he or she could face charges. Such cases are rarely prosecuted, but if they are and the person is convicted, he or she can face a significant fine as well as jail time.

Perjury is the act of willfully giving incomplete, misleading, or false testimony while under oath.
Perjury is the act of willfully giving incomplete, misleading, or false testimony while under oath.

When perjury is committed, it can represent a serious abridgment of the legal process. When someone testifies in court, the judge and jury are led to believe that the testimony is truthful and reliable. If a witness deliberately chooses to lie on the stand, twisting the testimony in one way or another, the trial is no longer fair. If it is not caught, false testimony may result in wrongful conviction or release.

Telling any lie under oath is perjury, but only lies that affect the outcome of the case are actionable.
Telling any lie under oath is perjury, but only lies that affect the outcome of the case are actionable.

In order to be considered perjury, testimony must satisfy two conditions. The first is that the lie committed must be deliberate, rather than accidental or unknowing. If the witness believes that he or she is telling the truth, giving incomplete or false testimony it is not a crime, although it may be confusing. The second condition is that the testimony must be material to the trial, having a direct impact on the outcome. If the witness lies about something which is not material, this is frowned upon, but it is not illegal.

The term perjury is most often used to refer to testimony given during a court trial.
The term perjury is most often used to refer to testimony given during a court trial.

It is also possible to correct perjury while on the stand. A witness may choose to recant false testimony before he or she steps down. This person may be charged with contempt of court or similar crimes so that he or she can be punished for wasting the time of the court, but the individual cannot be charged with perjury. Someone can also be charged with subornation of perjury, should she or he choose to incite someone else to give false testimony.

The Fifth Amendment, part of the US Bill of Rights, addresses due process, double jeopardy, self-incrimination, and eminent domain.
The Fifth Amendment, part of the US Bill of Rights, addresses due process, double jeopardy, self-incrimination, and eminent domain.

Many justice systems operate on the simple basis that people in court are bound to tell the truth about the events in question. People who do not testify truthfully put their legal systems at risk by flouting common decency and the law. Because the crime is so serious, accusations of perjury are taken very seriously by judges and legal professionals. A single case in a trial can cause the whole trial to be thrown out. American witnesses who feel that they cannot testify about something in particular may always choose to plead the Fifth Amendment, if they feel that the testimony may be self-incriminating.

Perjury charges can result in jail time.
Perjury charges can result in jail time.
What someone testifies in court, the judge and jury believe that person to be truthful and reliable.
What someone testifies in court, the judge and jury believe that person to be truthful and reliable.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


The judge in my divorce case wrote a couple of false statements about me on my divorce decree. There is also bias. I have proof (transcript from the divorce hearing). I am starting the process to report this behavior. Are there any court cases that have dealt with this type of subject?


I was falsely convicted and did jail time. No one would listen to me. My husband, who lives 3,700 miles away, filed a restraining order against me, saying I was following him, and threatening him and his family. He was awarded a restraining order. He lied about everything he said except for what I looked like. He made false police reports, fraud to the courts. I was arrested and spent a month in jail before I bailed out. My future for employment and all is ruined because of his lies. Is there anything I can do?


How do you prove that perjury was committed?


I wanted to find out if, even under oath, a person can give a date which is a different date from the complainant but still, after cross-examination, says he is sure of the date he gave, is the witness still credible, or should his testimony have even been allowed?


My dad passed away in 2011 and my sisters stole all of his gold, watches, and closed out his bank accounts CDs, etc. -- over $100,000. Then they lied on court documents about the money that had been spent on the estate. I'm talking thousands of dollars. Now I've hired an investigator to look into all of this and I'm pushing for jail time and a lawsuit.


Being lied about to a court of law is one of the most heartbreaking, destructive things that can happen to a person. It casts a negative light on you regardless of your innocence or guilt. And God forbid you are arrested-- you will just become one of the crowd, another inmate who says he didn't do it.

The justice system in this country needs a to be examined thoroughly to fix these loopholes that manipulative liars exploit on a daily basis. Your freedom is just a lie away from ending. All a liar needs is two fraudulent witnesses, and enough know-how to scam the system. There need to be stiff penalties for liars to make them less likely to take the risk.


A DSS agent filed a petition to the court containing fraudulent information and misleading statements.

I was outside when she drove up and, having nothing to hide, escorted her directly into mother's sitting room. The house was spotless, mother was well dressed, obviously well fed and taken care of. I gave her a copy of the durable power of attorney and she left. There were obvious assets and the agent petitioned the court to have mother adjudicated incompetent and have a guardian appointed.

She lied in the petition about the power of attorney, stating there wasn't one and further made false and misleading statements in the petition. I can prove everything she said was a lie.

Did she commit fraud upon the court?


@anon189812: If your sister received the death penalty, then an appeal is automatic in the state of Alabama. However, her defense attorney should also be willing to file an appeal with the Court of Criminal Appeals. A halfway decent defense attorney should be able to get an appeal based on the perjured testimony. You need to speak with her attorney about this issue.


My sister was recently found guilty of murder in shelby county, alabama. I want to know how do you take this case to a higher court when all the witnesses but one got on stand and committed perjury that was for the da? They told lie after lie and were caught in them, but the jury turned a blind eye to them. Please tell me what can we do?


My ex-husband lied about his income to the court. In 2004 he stated that he was making only $60,000.00 per year. When we divorced in 1996 he was making $62,000.00 per year. He works for Cooper Tire & Rubber and certainly they have not decreased his pay over those ten years. Child support payments were ordered off that amount. He also lied about my income; as I was quite ill and unable to work and awaiting a disability hearing.

I was granted SSD in March of 2006. Even based on his lies that I was making $10,000.00 a year in 2004 he was awarded $188.00 per month child support for our two minor children. He has been receiving double that and also got lump sum payments of over $4,000.00 per child in 2006. I have the W2's from our marriage and can easily prove he lied.

I also have a letter he wrote to Social Security on my behalf in 2003 acknowledging my illness and inability to work signed by him. There are many other lies that he told in regard to my character, many of which I can also prove via his own penmanship.

His perjury, especially related to his income, is material, because it affected the final ruling. I live in a county though where he is related to several members of the legal community including judges; this has never served me well. I would like him to be made accountable for at least his lies about his income and my income.

Thank you for your time. Respectfully --DML


I work for a school district and a custodian claimed that he had more seniority then the other custodian. He did file an grievance against the district and he said that he wanted to share the $5000 dollars with the other custodian. but at the end he took the full amount of money, and all the other custodians got zero.


Can an individual charge another individual for perjury or is only a court allowed to do this?


I am currently involved in a case where I have been accused of having a sexual relationship with a minor. I was arrested and had everything taken away from me, including my children!

I told them from the beginning that the girl was lying and there would be proof. Months later, my written e-mail proof came through. When compared to her "sworn statement" it blatantly shows her repeated inconsistencies and out right lies.

I am taking this to trial because I will not cop a plea to something I didn't do. She is the state's only witness and there is no physical evidence to support her claim. Will this be bounced at trial?


My husband was wrongfully convicted and is being held at a pre-trial facility pending sentencing.

The alleged victim and cop falsely testified against him and now I find out that there is perjury after getting the discovery this month, a month after the trial.

Then we find out that the alleged victim lied about his statement to the cop and he lied about most of the incident on the stand, too.

My daughter and I were not allowed to be in the courtroom since we were witnesses, yet the cop witness was allowed to be in the courtroom throughout the whole trial as a representative of the State they said.

This was all a violation of my husband's due process rights and to add to it, the alleged victim and cop's false testimony.


My father faced perjury charges during a case about his taxes. Perjury turns out to be a very serious charge.


what will happen to a person who was found lying after she filed a criminal case of rape against her father but the real score is the father didn't do it but the mother and the daughter just did that to get the father to jail and they get all the property.


What happens if it is found a person commits perjury after case is ruled on?


If you have charges against you and are finally getting your life straight, but find out you might have a child from somebody from 2 years ago that you didn't know about.

Is it better to admit it may be yours (even with the consequences) or to lie and hope its not yours bc you are in a stable relationship with another person.


My wife and I filed a complaint for damages as a result of my wife not getting lunch breaks or rest breaks for 9 months which was the length of her employment before she was Wrongfully Terminated. The Labor Board ruled against my wife based on a fabricated document that had my wife's name forged to it by her former boss. Also, this person produced a copy of a 400.00 check and testified it was a vacation check given to my wife when in fact i was a loan that was paid back in cash a month later. This perjury in the form of her testimony and the fabricated document were major factors in the decision going against my wife. How do I go about prosecuting this person for her perjury and fraudulent document.


I know someone who came to the US from other country as a brother and sister. The guy came with the wife's family and acted as a family member but he is really the groom of that house. I mean married with one of the girls in that family.

My question is even now the girl is a US citizen and she lives with her husband but on the INS paper her husband is her brother. If the INS find out, would any charges come to her or her family or him?


Smoochie - In order for something to be considered perjury, the lie must be about something *important* to a subject at hand. A lie about an address may or may not be considered important or big enough to warrant prosecution. Still, if you are interested in pursuing this you should contact the court or some attorneys to get some professional advice.


I recently went through a child visitation/custody court hearing. Before the hearing, I found out that the father lied on his summons about his current residence. He listed a residence he has not lived at for over a year. The judge forced him to give me his new address, but I was unable to tell the judge that he lied on his summons as he was in a hurry to move to the next case. We also went to child support court last year and he lied on their docs too. I have an abundance of evidence. How may I get him prosecuted?

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