Witnesses form an essential part of any court trial. Their testimony can make or break a case. But what happens if the witness withholds the truth or twists it in some way?
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Perjury Definition Law
Perjury is defined as intentionally giving false information, or withholding information that has value for an issue, point or material fact, after being sworn under oath. It is a violation of oath before a court and can cause the powers of the court to be annexed, causing misjudgement and breakdown of law.
What Constitutes As Perjury?
Any statement, whether made verbally or signed upon by a witness, that he or she knows is not true, while under oath, constitutes as perjury. The wrongful statement of the witness should have some connection to the case under trial. The definition of perjury holds in the following scenarios:
- A statement is counted as perjury only if it was given while the witness was under oath and in front of a court or tribunal that has the mandate to carry out the investigation.
- The statement was given to intentionally mislead the court and the witness was aware of the effect of the statement ie the witness knew the statement was untrue.
- False statements that are a result of memory loss, confusion, unawareness of law or procedures, or a mistake are not counted as perjury.
- All details of a witness’s testimony must add up. Statements that are at odds with a witness’s account can be considered perjury if the prosecutor can prove that the inconsistency in the account had an impact on the outcome of the case. If the inconsistency has no effect on the outcome of the case, it is not considered as perjury.
- The false statement is only given under oath and submitted to a court of law. If the statement is made outside of the court, for example, details of an event given to an investigator, they cannot be charged as perjury. However, false statements that are given outside of court that the witness signs under oath to be submitted to a tribunal fall under perjury.
- A statement must be given. Silence or refusal to give a statement, as is the right of a witness under the Fifth, is not counted as perjury. However, they may be considered an offence under separate state laws.
- The statement given had a direct influence on the case and its outcome. If the statement is not directly tied to the case but is still false, it will not be counted as perjury.
If the statement of the person falls under any of the scenarios given above or is proven by the persecution to lie within the bounds of perjury as defined by law, then the witness is guilty of perjury and is charged with perjury.
Penalty Of Perjury Meaning
The penalty of perjury means the express understanding by the witness that his or her statement is subject to the laws of perjury and will carry the penalty or punishment set out for such a crime if it is so proven.
Written statements are often signed as a declaration under penalty of perjury to ensure that whatever information the witness provides is true, unaltered, and correct to the best of their knowledge. Such a declaration is usually signed during the process of preparing an affidavit or getting a statement as per an investigation for a trial that will take place in a mandated setting. It ensures that the statement is correct even if it is not being made in front of a court of law, and tantamounts to testimony under oath.
In the event that the statement is proven to be intentionally false, the law permits strict action to be taken against the accused, as they were aware that the declaration was signed under penalty of perjury.
How To Prove Perjury
Proving perjury is a difficult task as the prosecutor has to prove that not only was the statement false, but also was made intentionally and had a direct material connection with the case.
To begin the tedious task pf proving perjury, first and foremost ensure that the statement was made underoath. If the witness provided you with some information outside of court and then proceeded to change that while testifying, it does not count towards perjury. If it is a signed document, make sure it was undertaken under penalty of perjury or oath.
Find tangible and visible evidence that the witness was aware of the truth but chose to lie about it. For instance, in a lawsuit, a witness may declare that they earn x dollars but you have financial and audit reports that show otherwise.
Inconsistent statements can also count towards perjury, especially if you can prove that the statements differ at various hearings or investigations. Inconsistent statements show that the witness is changing his or her account and thus, giving false information to the court. The lawyer has to be very sharp to distinguish that the inconsistency is intentional, and not a result of a mistake or loss of memory.
In most cases, you’ll have to look for circumstantial evidence that may help you prove perjury. For instance, the witness might have expressed their intention via an email or text message to provide incorrect information to the court. Though it does not prove that the person is guilty of the crime, it helps to make your case stronger.
Another condition for perjury is the material impact of the statement on the case. Hence, you may want to quantify and clearly show the effect of a false statement on the case. The statement may be false but will not be considered perjury unless it is material to the case.
It is burdensome and extremely difficult to prove perjury, especially where wilful intent has to be established. As a lawyer, you may want to discredit the witness that you think might provide false testimony, instead of trying them for perjury.
Penalty Of Perjury Statement
A Penalty of Perjury Statement should clearly state that the statement “that you will be making contained in this form will be under penalty of perjury. The crime of perjury is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three or four years.” This statement can be written on any statement that is providing information regarding a case.
One of the most famous cases that involved perjury was the impeachment charges against President Cill Clinton in 1998. Clinton was charged with contempt of court for giving misleading information in the Paula Jones case regarding Monica Lewinsky and fined $90,000. He was also suspended from practising law in Arkansas for 5 years.
In 2009, Officer Manuel Ortez of the Los Angeles Police Department was charged with perjury and lying under oath along with 2 other police officers. The case involved drug possession. All three officers were found guilty of at least one count of perjury as inconsistencies in their written reports, video footage and oral testimony in court were discovered by the defence.
In short, perjury is a serious crime that is punishable by up to 5 years in prison, heavy fines, or community work under state laws. The punishment may vary according to the state as well.