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Perjury, False Report and Obstruction of Justice Charges in Florida

Perjury, False Report and Obstruction of Justice Charges in Florida

Perjury, false report, and obstruction of justice are serious criminal offenses in Florida that carry potentially severe penalties. Understanding these charges and how to defend against them is crucial for anyone potentially facing prosecution. This article provides an overview of these crimes, defenses, and implications under Florida law.

Perjury Charges

Perjury generally refers to the crime of intentionally lying while under oath during an official proceeding, such as a trial, deposition, or hearing. Florida law defines perjury under Florida Statute §837.02. The key elements prosecutors must prove are:

  • The defendant made a false statement
  • The statement was material to the proceeding
  • The defendant knew the statement was false when they made it
  • The statement was made under oath during an official proceeding

Perjury is a third-degree felony in Florida punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. However, if the perjured statement relates to a capital felony case, it becomes a second-degree felony with up to 15 years imprisonment.

There are two main ways a perjury charge can arise:

1. False Oral Testimony

This occurs when someone lies while testifying verbally at a trial, hearing, deposition, or other proceeding under oath. For example, an eyewitness lies about what they saw during a murder trial.

Prosecutors must prove the statement was intentionally false, not just a mistake or error. The statement also must relate to a material issue or fact in the case rather than an insignificant detail.

2. False Written Statement

This involves submitting or signing a false written statement, certificate, or affidavit under oath. For instance, an individual signs an affidavit with false information when applying for a restraining order.

As with oral perjury, the state must show the person knew the statement was false and that it was material to the proceeding.

Perjury by Contradiction

Florida also recognizes the crime of perjury by contradiction under Florida Statute §837.021. This occurs when someone provides two or more material statements under oath that contradict each other. The contradictory statements could be made during the same proceeding or different proceedings.

For example, a defendant first testifies he was in another city on the day of the crime. Later at trial, he testifies he was at home that day. These irreconcilable statements could warrant a perjury by contradiction charge.

Defenses to Perjury

While perjury allegations should always be taken seriously, there are viable defenses a skilled attorney can raise on your behalf, such as:

  • No intent – The contradictory statements or false information were provided unintentionally through an honest mistake or misunderstanding.
  • Immaterial information – The false statements related to unimportant, tangential issues not material to the proceeding.
  • Recantation – The individual recanted or withdrew the false testimony in the same proceeding it was made before it substantially affected the proceeding.
  • Confusion – The person was confused while testifying and misspoke or misremembered certain details.
  • Lack of proof – The prosecution cannot conclusively prove beyond a reasonable doubt the statements were intentionally false.
  • Coercion – The person was coerced into providing the false testimony through threats, abuse, or duress.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can evaluate the facts of your case and decide which defenses to employ to attack the prosecution’s ability to prove intent, materiality, and other elements of a perjury charge.

False Report Charges

Under Florida Statute 837.055, it is illegal to knowingly give false information to law enforcement when:

  • Reporting a crime or asking law enforcement to respond to a location (such as a false 911 call)
  • During the investigation of a missing person
  • During the investigation of a felony

This offense is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and $1,000 in fines. However, falsely reporting certain types of crimes may warrant more serious felony charges.

For example, falsely reporting the use or possession of a bomb or weapon of mass destruction becomes a second-degree felony under Florida law. Falsely reporting a capital felony such as murder can also be charged as a felony.

Defenses to False Report Charges

While falsely reporting crimes is illegal, there are defenses that could lead to dismissal of charges:

  • No intent – The individual did not knowingly or intentionally make a false report, but was simply mistaken, confused, or misinformed.
  • First Amendment – The speech was protected free speech under the First Amendment rather than an intentional false report.
  • Diminished capacity – The person has a mental defect or psychiatric disorder that impacted their ability to distinguish truth from fiction.
  • Coercion – Someone forced or coerced the individual into making the false report through threats or abuse.
  • Recantation – The person quickly recanted and admitted to law enforcement that the report was false before substantial disruption occurred.
  • Unreliable witnesses – The prosecution relies solely on questionable witnesses to try to prove intent to deceive.

An attorney can argue these defenses and seek to have charges reduced or dismissed entirely in appropriate cases.

Obstruction of Justice

Obstruction of justice involves intentionally interfering with an active criminal investigation or court proceeding through threats, destruction of evidence, or other means.

Under Florida Statute 843, obstruction can include:

  • Lying to police or prosecutors
  • Hiding, destroying, or tampering with evidence
  • Trying to influence or intimidate witnesses
  • Providing escape aids such as weapons or tools to someone in custody
  • Resisting an officer through violence
  • Falsely impersonating a law enforcement officer

Obstruction is generally a third-degree felony in Florida, carrying up to 5 years imprisonment and a $5,000 fine. However, the specific penalties depend on the nature of the obstruction. For example, helping a violent felon escape is a second-degree felony.

Defending Against Obstruction Charges

There are many ways an experienced attorney can fight obstruction allegations, such as:

  • Lack of evidence – The prosecution lacks solid proof you knowingly obstructed the investigation rather than making an honest mistake.
  • Improper police conduct – Officers violated your rights, so any statements or evidence obtained is inadmissible.
  • Self-defense – Any resistance was lawful self-defense against excessive police force.
  • Diminished capacity – You lacked the mental capacity to willfully obstruct justice.
  • First Amendment – Your speech was constitutionally protected free expression.
  • No underlying crime – The investigation or case you allegedly obstructed did not involve an actual crime.

In some cases, prosecutors may agree to reduce obstruction charges to lower misdemeanors through plea negotiations as well.

Consequences of Conviction

Being convicted of perjury, false statements, or obstruction of justice can result in years behind bars along with substantial fines. A felony conviction also leads to a loss of civil rights, such as voting and serving on a jury. Those convicted will have a permanent criminal record that can severely limit job, housing, and other opportunities.

Non-citizens charged with these offenses also risk deportation if convicted. The costs of criminal defense alone can be financially devastating even if charges are ultimately dropped.

Work With a Skilled Attorney

Facing perjury, false report, or obstruction of justice charges can be extremely scary. However, an experienced Florida criminal defense lawyer can carefully examine the evidence and build a strong defense to get charges reduced or dismissed. An attorney can also negotiate with prosecutors for diversion programs or deals that minimize penalties.

With skilled legal help, many people avoid jail time and instead receive probation or community service. While the stakes are high, there are options other than prison. Anyone charged with these offenses should immediately retain a knowledgeable attorney to protect their rights and future.


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