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Lying Under Oath: Understanding Perjury Charges

Lying Under Oath: Understanding Perjury Charges

Perjury charges—when someone lies under oath—can have serious legal consequences. As a criminal defense lawyer, I’ve seen many well-meaning folks get caught up in the justice system for perjury. My goal with this article is to provide a plain-language overview of perjury laws, penalties, and defenses so folks can understand the risks and make informed choices.

What is Perjury?

Legally speaking, perjury means lying under oath or penalty of perjury. You commit perjury if you knowingly make a false statement about something important while under oath in an official proceeding.

Some examples:

  • Lying on the witness stand during a trial
  • Lying during a deposition (recorded Q&A under oath)
  • Signing an affidavit or other document that contains false info, when you’ve sworn that everything in it is true

It doesn’t matter if your lie actually impacted the case or investigation. If you lied knowingly and willfully about something important while under oath, you likely committed perjury.

Elements of a Perjury Charge

For prosecutors to convict someone of perjury, they need to prove a few key elements:

  • The defendant made a statement under oath or penalty of perjury
  • The defendant knew the statement was false when they made it
  • The false statement was about a material fact (something important to the case)
  • The defendant made the false statement willfully or intentionally

As you can see, intent is crucial. If you make an honest mistake while testifying, that’s not perjury. But if you knowingly lie about something important to mislead the court, that likely is.

Perjury Penalties

Under California law, perjury is a felony. Penalties can include:

  • Up to 4 years in state prison
  • Up to $10,000 in fines
  • Probation instead of prison for first offenses
  • “Strike” on your criminal record under California’s Three Strikes law

In addition to criminal penalties, perjury can seriously damage your credibility and reputation. If you work in a field that requires licenses or security clearances, a perjury conviction could also threaten your career.

Defending Against Perjury Charges

Fighting perjury charges starts with understanding the elements prosecutors must prove. As an experienced criminal defense lawyer, I dig deep into the facts to identify weaknesses in the prosecution’s case.

Some common perjury defenses include:

Lack of intent: If you can show you did not intentionally lie but made an honest mistake, this can defeat a perjury charge. I work closely with clients to demonstrate innocent intent.

Immaterial statement: If your alleged lie was not about a material issue but some minor or irrelevant point, this can undermine the case. I analyze statements to show immateriality.

Confusion or misrecollection: Human memory is fallible, especially under stress. Demonstrating your confusion or innocent misrecollection can defeat charges.

Uncorroborated allegations: Prosecutors may struggle to prove perjury without corroborating evidence you lied. I scrutinize their proof to reveal doubt.

Coercion or duress: If you can show you were coerced into lying under threat of harm, this may provide a legal defense.

An experienced perjury defense lawyer will know which defenses may apply in your case. The sooner you involve counsel after charges are filed, the more options we have to build an effective defense.

What to Do if You’re Worried About Perjury

If you’re concerned you may have unintentionally made a false statement under oath, or feel coerced to lie, speak to a lawyer right away. Never try to fix one lie with more lies.

An attorney can advise you on correcting the record while minimizing further legal risks. We can also provide counsel on asserting your rights if investigators come asking questions.

Even if charges have not been filed, an attorney can proactively engage with prosecutors to dissuade them from pursuing a case. The best time to fight perjury allegations is early on, before charges are set in stone.

Takeaways: Key Points on Perjury

To recap, here are some key points for anyone dealing with perjury issues:

  • Perjury means knowingly lying about something important while under oath
  • It’s a felony in California, carrying over 4 years of potential prison time
  • Proving intent and materiality are key to getting convictions
  • There are defenses lawyers can assert to avoid convictions
  • Anyone worried about perjury issues needs legal help ASAP

I hope this overview has helped explain the basics of perjury laws and how attorneys defend these cases. Perjury situations are complex, with much at stake. So reach out to a lawyer right away for personalized counsel. We’re here to help.

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