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Defending Federal Perjury Charges: What Defendants Need to Know

Defending Federal Perjury Charges: What Defendants Need to Know

Being charged with perjury at the federal level is extremely serious. If convicted, defendants can face years in prison and substantial fines. However, these cases are complex and there are viable defenses available in many situations. This article provides an overview of federal perjury laws, typical penalties, and potential defenses to help those facing charges understand their options and next steps.

The Basics of Federal Perjury Laws

There are a few key federal statutes that address perjury, including 1:

  • 18 U.S.C. § 1001 – Covers falsifying or concealing material facts, making false statements, or using false documents/writings within the jurisdiction of the federal government.
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1621 – Defines perjury more generally as giving false testimony about material matters under oath (or affirmation) in federal court or before a federal officer/agency.
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1623 – Specifically addresses perjury before grand juries or federal court proceedings.

The essential elements prosecutors must prove are:

  • The defendant made a false statement under oath or affirmation.
  • The statement was about a material issue or fact.
  • The defendant knew the statement was false when they made it.
  • The false statement was made before an authorized federal court, agency, etc.

“Materiality” means that the statement could influence the outcome or matter at hand. Even minor issues may be considered material 2.

Penalties and Sentencing

If convicted of federal perjury, maximum penalties under 3:

  • 18 U.S. Code § 1621 – Up to 5 years in prison and/or fines.
  • 18 U.S. Code § 1623 – Up to 5 years in prison and/or fines.

While 5 years is the maximum, sentences are determined based on federal sentencing guidelines and judges’ discretion. Factors like criminal history impact sentences. Mandatory minimums also apply in some cases.Under the First Step Act, some non-violent federal offenders can earn earlier release through good behavior and rehabilitation programs. However, this is not guaranteed and violent offenders are excluded


.Fines up to $250,000 for individuals or $500,000 for organizations may also apply under federal law.

Recantation and Immunity

In some situations, recanting or correcting false statements promptly may help defendants avoid conviction or reduce penalties:

  • 18 U.S. Code § 1623 allows defendants to avoid prosecution by recanting false grand jury or court testimony under certain conditions, like before it substantially affected the proceeding or the falsity was exposed 1.
  • Immunity agreements with prosecutors do NOT allow perjury. Making false statements despite immunity still carries penalties 4.

Viable Defenses in Federal Perjury Cases

While perjury allegations should always be taken seriously, there are potential defenses to explore, including 5:

Lack of Materiality – If statements were not material or relevant to the case/outcome, perjury may not apply.Literal Truth – Even misleading testimony containing technical truths may not meet standards for willful falsehoods.Mistaken Belief – Defendants may argue they believed statements were true when made.Unclear Questions – Ambiguous questioning complicates proof statements were intentionally false.Recantation – As mentioned, prompt correction of false grand jury/court statements may provide a defense in some instances.Duplicitous Charges – Multiple contradictory statements in a single count may be challenged.Prosecutorial Discretion Issues – Choice to use the harsher statute (§1621 vs §1623) could potentially be questioned.Collateral Estoppel – If a jury acquitted based on testimony, revisiting statements may face barriers.While defenses vary case-by-case, an experienced federal criminal defense attorney can fully evaluate options. Talking to legal counsel promptly when facing accusations can be critical for developing an optimal strategy.

The Importance of Legal Representation

Facing federal perjury charges is undoubtedly scary. The penalties are severe, and these cases require specialized legal knowledge to mount a strong defense. An attorney experienced in federal criminal law can:

  • Explain the nuances of federal perjury statutes and how they apply to your unique case.
  • Identify weaknesses in the prosecution’s argument.
  • Raise viable defenses like those outlined above.
  • Negotiate with prosecutors for plea deals or dismissal of charges if appropriate.
  • Represent your best interests in court if charges proceed to trial.

Without knowledgeable legal help, the complexity of federal laws and court processes can quickly become overwhelming.Connecting with a federal criminal defense lawyer immediately allows you to understand your rights, options, and next prudent steps. Time is of the essence, so don’t hesitate to schedule a consultation. Many lawyers offer free or low-cost initial case reviews, so there’s no need to try navigating this alone. With an attorney’s counsel, you can make informed decisions on how to respond to perjury allegations.


Being accused of perjury at the federal level warrants serious and prompt attention. The penalties are severe, and the laws complex. However, viable defenses are available in many instances with the right legal guidance. Connecting with a federal criminal defense attorney from the outset allows those facing allegations to understand their options and build an optimal strategy. Don’t hesitate to exercise your rights to skilled legal representation.

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