In its most basic form, perjury is defined as lying under oath and it is a federal offense. There are two federal statutes that define perjury. The first outlines general perjury, while the other defines making false declarations before a court or grand jury. Although these statutes differ slightly, with one requiring a federal court proceeding, the definition of the act of perjury largely remains the same. That definition may seem simple, but there are five elements that must be met in order for the prosecution to secure a conviction.
Perjury Must Happen Under Oath
A person can make false statements when they are not under oath and it is not considered perjury. For an offense to have been committed, a witness must have promised to provide honest statements to a person that has the authority to administer the oath, such as a court official. The proceeding in which someone takes an oath must also be considered “competent,” or comply with the law.
A Statement Must Be Made
Silence, or refusing to make a statement, cannot be considered perjury. Doing this could result in other charges, such as contempt of court, but you cannot be charged with perjury for simply refusing to speak.
Intent to Deceive
In order for a person to commit perjury, they must knowingly make a false statement with the intention of deceiving the court. Simply stating an incorrect fact when you were not aware it was inaccurate is not enough to result in perjury charges.
Inconsistent Statements are Sometimes Perjury
When you testify in an official proceeding, your testimony is considered whole. That means that if you provide information about one point while testifying, and then change the information about the same point later, that could be considered perjury. Due to this, it is extremely important to always ask for clarification when you do not understand the question and to be extremely thoughtful with all of your answers.
Perjury Only Applies to Material Statements
Material statements are those that are the most important to the proceeding. If you make a false statement about something that is immaterial, it is unlikely that you can face perjury charges. For example, if a case had nothing to do with being on social media while at work and you stated that you never used these platforms while working, it likely would not result in a charge of perjury.
However, it is important to note that if you do make a false statement on a material matter, it is considered perjury even if your statement does not affect the outcome of the proceeding. As long as the statement is false, and it involved a matter important to the proceeding, a perjury charge may stand.
Our Chicago Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help
Perjury is a serious crime in the federal courts and the offense has harsh penalties for those convicted. At the Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel, our skilled Chicago federal criminal defense lawyer knows how to ensure your rights are upheld and how to craft a solid defense to give you the best chance of retaining your freedom. When you have been charged with perjury or any other federal offense, call us at 312-270-0999 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.
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