Perjury Laws

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 What Does Perjury Mean?

Perjury is when a witness in a trial knowingly and intentionally lies about a material issue. This is prohibited and considered a crime in all jurisdictions. “Under federal law, perjury is committed when a person ‘knowingly’ attests to or subscribes to statements they do not believe are true, ” as the Middle Tennessee State University stated.

The First Amendment does not protect perjury because it prevents the court from obtaining truthful testimony.

Once a person is asked on the stand to make an oath and only state the truth, they have a legal obligation to do so. If they knowingly conceal the truth, then they will face charges under the perjury law. Perjury charges can be brought against individuals who swear or affirm that they will speak the truth and then lie instead. But, if the witness was unaware or the facts stated changed, they would not be charged with perjured testimony.

The main distinction for perjury is that the speaker must make a false statement, which must be of such magnitude that it influences an official proceeding’s outcome. It is important to note that if the false statement under oath is not material to the case, it will not constitute perjury. The perjury law primarily focuses on protecting the credibility of official proceedings. Holding each person accountable for each misstatement would not serve the justice system’s purpose.

What Does Perjury Consist Of?

There are major elements that constitute the perjury crime. The first element is that it is a false statement made under oath; it can be either written or verbal. The second element is that it is material to the case. This means that the false statement will greatly impact the outcome of the case. There has to be proof that the false statement was made with the intent to defraud.

According to federal law, there are two types of perjury that contain multiple elements. The first type of perjury deals with statements made under oath and mandates the following proof:

  • When a person takes an oath to state the truth either verbally or in writing;
  • The person concealed the truth and had the knowledge that the state was false;
  • The person had the intent to make a false statement willfully and;
  • The subject matter of the statement was material to the case in which it was made.

The second type of perjury has unsworn statements and has to demonstrate the following proof:

  • A person made an unsworn declaration as authorized by federal law;
  • The person intended to make a false statement willfully;
  • The subject matter of the statement was material and;
  • According to the state laws defining perjury, the person must knowingly make the false statement under oath, knowing it was false. Therefore, they are misleading justice and concealment of the truth.

The crime of perjury is not necessarily the fact that there is a false statement but that it is made under oath, which makes the statement true. It is about acting knowingly and being willful in falsifying the statement. The federal statute mandates that a person act “willfully,” while another state statute states that the person acted “knowingly.” Jurisdictions can vary on these issues regarding the mental state. Being aware of the local laws in your state regarding elements of perjury law will be crucial.

Furthermore, another important element of the perjury law is materiality. State statutes have defined this to mean that the statement would impact the proceeding’s course or outcome. The U.S. The Supreme Court further translated this in Kungys v. United States as a statement that “has a natural tendency to influence, or was capable of influencing, the decision of the decision-making body to which it was addressed.”

For instance, a person’s age would not necessarily become a perjury issue if made false. However, if, for example, it is a welfare case and age matters to receive state benefits, then the person did commit fraud. The outcome of the case is based on the person’s age, which means they have to be truthful about it.

Another related charge about perjury is the subornation of perjury. This is when a person either coaches or persuades someone to commit perjury. Anyone in the case, including the attorneys, can become involved for other personal reasons.

Where Does Perjury Occur?

Perjury is common in some cases more than others. For example, one of the most common places you may experience perjury is within family law cases. Some of the fraud occurs when they conceal the reality of their income, events that may impact child support or alimony, and information regarding their assets.

However, family law is also an area where perjury can become challenging to prove. Therefore, it is rarely enforced. There must be adequate evidence that a person lied under oath. If this can be established through the facts and evidence, the person can be held in contempt for perjury, or the local criminal prosecutor will be appointed.

Perjury is a serious crime and has significant charges with fines or punishments. Therefore, if you have been accused of perjury or believe that someone else committed perjury, you can reach out to a lawyer in your area for more guidance on what to do. Knowing your rights and dealing with this issue calmly will be helpful.

What Are a Lawyer’s Ethical Obligations Regarding Perjury?

How would you deal with this issue if your client discloses that they committed perjury? National ethical obligations are in place regarding all aspects of the legal field. As a lawyer, you have an ethical obligation, and you could be disbarred if you do not abide by those rules.

According to the Alabama State Bar, the lawyer’s ethical obligations remain the same whether you are representing a civil client or a criminal client. If your client informs you that they want to commit perjury, your ethical duty is to persuade them not to.

However, if the client insists that they will commit perjury, the lawyer must withdraw their representation to uphold the law. The client does not come above the law, and the ethical obligations must be followed. The lawyer, as reasonable, must advise the client to avoid committing perjury and explain its consequences as necessary.

But, when a lawyer knows that their client committed perjury or submitted false evidence, they can try to convince the lawyer to come forward voluntarily. However, if the client does not agree and refuses to comply, the lawyer then has the ethical obligation to disclose the perjured testimony for the sake of justice. It is a matter of principle and your ethical duty as a lawyer.

When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?

If you have been accused of perjury or know someone who committed perjury, reach out to a local criminal defense lawyer in your area for further information on how to proceed. Perjury is a serious charge and can harm you. Understanding what constitutes perjury and how to avoid it can be useful.

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