Perjury is the crime of taking a false oath. In Latin, one can break down the word to per, through and jurare, to swear. The term dates back to the 14th century, but the crime dates back to the beginning of culture, surely. The voluntary violation of an oath or vow either by swearing to what is untrue or by omission to do what has been promised under oath is false swearing. A mistake of fact or an unintentional misrepresentation of fact is not considered to be perjury. In order for a witness to commit perjury during his or her testimony in court, he or she must intentionally make a false statement of fact. In addition, in many places, telling a lie about something immaterial to the matter before the court is not considered perjury.Perjurers face felony charges and usually end up in prison, due to the fact that courts do not like being lied to.
The crime is so serious, that perjurers are made an example of. Lie to a Judge or Court and you could face up to 5 years in prison, not jail. Aiding and abetting a perjurer is also a felony,since it is considered a conspiracy against the court to abet a known perjury.
The statement upon which a charge of perjury is based must be something that was relevant to the court’s decision in the matter before the court. Say for example, Mary Six Pack tells a judge that Joe Blow was calling her from a blocked phone number. If in fact Joe Blow did not call her, Mary better get herself a good attorney because she will be prosecuted. If Mary was perjuring herself to cover up greater fraud, then the police will investigate her, her friends and her criminal history. Her phone records will be searched. Her life will be under a microscope. Criminalists consider this type of false swearing (perjury as an act of obstruction) as the most serious, since bearing false witness harms the general sanctity of the system itself. Police can easily find who called or did not call from a blocked number. The NSA scandal has pretty much proven that there are few secrets. That may violate some people’s sense of privacy, but it can also exonerate falsely accused people. If Mary has any prior record and they are crimes of moral turpitude, then Mary better do some hard praying. She should have considered that the police only have to go to her phone provider to prove her perjury. Welcome to the cyber jungle….
A person may also be guilty of lying under oath in writing. Many legal documents include a statement attesting to the fact that the person executing the document swears, under the penalties of perjury, that the information contained in the document is true and accurate. Once a person signs the document, he or she is subject to a charge of perjury if a material fact was misrepresented or a false statement was made in the document.
In most states, it is a crime to knowingly lie after taking an oath to tell the truth. Additionally, committing perjury can be as simple as signing a document knowing that it contains false statements and information. The technical definition of perjury is the telling of a lie after having taken an oath to tell the truth, usually in a court of law or simply “to lie under oath.” The matter that is lied about also has to affect the outcome of a case. An example of this would be if any individual fibbed about the year they were born, which wouldn’t be considered perjury, unless that was a major factor in proving the specific case.
In many cases, there is a fine line between the interpretation of a fact and actual perjury. This is because a person can be honest and think a certain fact to be true when it isn’t. There are other countries, like France, in which the accused cannot be heard under affirmation or oath, meaning there is no way for them to commit perjury even if they lie during their trial. The attempt to coerce one into committing perjury is also considered a crime, referred to as the subornation of perjury.
Perjury is a common-law crime governed by both state and federal laws and under federal law, the punishment for perjury in most states is the imposition of a fine, imprisonment, or both. A person who has been convicted of perjury can face a fine of up to $15,000 and/or a prison term of up to 15 years, which depends on how serious the lie was and how much effect it had on the outcome of a case. Federal law also imposes sentencing enhancements when the court determines that a defendant has falsely testified on his own behalf and is convicted. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the court is required to automatically increase the defendant’s sentence. A convicted subject can also have to publicly apologize, or may lose their job (as well as respect from their peers) for committing perjury.
A recent famous case that involved perjury was with Martha Stewart, who was convicted of the intent to commit perjury as well as for lying to a federal agent. Perhaps the most recent notorious case of one who has been accused of perjury was in 1998, when the U.S. President Bill Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives for his involvement in an affair with Monica Lewinsky and lying under oath about it, as well, for the obstruction of justice. He ended up being acquitted by the Senate and he never faced any criminal charges, though he did have to pay a fine for “contempt of court”
From Roger Clemens to the wife of George Zimmerman, suddenly, perjury is a hot subject, with prosecutors now willingly going after perjurers because it plays well in the press. But, how is perjury, once considered a split hair type of legal term, all of a sudden vogue? Because of it’s complexity it comes down to what the person said, what they understood themselves to be saying and what they understood the question to be. Said one lawyer I spoke with last week, “If law enforcement can prove someone perjured themselves in order to either harm another person or to put a roadblock in an investigation, then the courts take this matter very seriously. To quote John Butler, “The tongue may be employed about and made to serve all the purposes of vice in tempting and deceiving, in perjury and injustice”. To quote an unidentified source, “Discover the perjury and you discover more crime”. Perjury is now being taken far more seriously by prosecutors, since perjurers makes fools of judges, police and the system in general. Perjurers are forewarned, “Mess with the Judge and the Judge will Mess with you back”.