Perjury is a serious crime that carries the possibility of a state prison sentence upon conviction. Committing perjury in the context of a capital crime (murder) carries a maximum penalty of up to life in prison.Elements of Perjury
In order to convict a defendant of perjury, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- The defendant made a statement under oath in a judicial proceeding, in a proceeding in a course of justice, or when required by law to take an oath or affirmation;
- The statement was false;
- The defendant knew the statement was false at the time he or she made the statement; and
- The statement was material to the issue or the point in question.
In determining whether the defendant made a false statement, the jury will consider the statement in the context of the defendant’s entire testimony. If the statement was unclear, uncertain, or capable of more than one meaning, it cannot be labeled as false. Only definite falsehoods are punishable as perjury.Common Defenses and Defense Strategies
Perjury cases can be defended in many ways, depending on the allegations.
- Defendant’s State of Mind - The Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew the allegedly false statement was false at the time he or she made the statement. If the defendant unintentionally made a false statement while under oath, he or she cannot be convicted of perjury. In most cases, it is challenging for an assistant district attorney to prove the defendant's state of mind.
- Materiality of the False Statement - A statement is material only if it is significant to the proceeding in which it was made. Therefore, even if the defendant intentionally made a false statement under oath, it is not perjury unless it had a reasonable tendency to affect the determination of what was at issue. A false statement about an unimportant detail is probably insufficient to establish perjury.
- Some disgruntled prosecutors use the perjury statute as a weapon when they lose a case. These prosecutors will scour the record and examine the witnesses’ statements for the smallest inconsistencies. They will then indict the witnesses for perjury in an effort to punish them for not assisting the prosecution’s case. If the Commonwealth cannot prove the defendant intentionally lied and the lie was material, then the defendant cannot be convicted.
The consequences of a perjury conviction can be catastrophic. You should never talk to the police before first consulting with a criminal defense attorney. You should also never talk to an assistant district attorney, a victim witness advocate, or any other employee of a District Attorney’s Office without first speaking to a criminal defense attorney. If you are invited or ordered to testify before the grand jury or at a criminal trial, it is always important to review your testimony with a criminal defense attorney first to determine whether you have the potential to incriminate yourself. Call Attorney Spring today to schedule a free consultation at your home.