When you swear to tell the truth, you are not only ethically held to telling the truth, you are also legally obligated to do so. If you are caught lying under oath in California, you can be charged with perjury charges. This does not only apply to courtroom testimonies, but also to government documents, such as tax returns, driver license forms or governmental benefit applications, where you have sworn the information is true to the best of your knowledge. If you have been accused of committing perjury, it is critical you contact an attorney as soon as possible in order to avoid saying something that could hurt your case.
What is Perjury in California?
Although most people think of perjury in a courtroom setting, any time you lie while under oath, whether on a document or in person is considered perjury. Stating an “opinion” that you don’t actually believe is grounds for perjury as is saying something that is actually true, but you believed to be false at the time. You can also be charged with perjury if you yourself never lied, but you convinced someone else to do so under oath. In fact, the most common perjury charges in San Diego County are omissions or false statements in applications for government benefits like welfare and food stamps.
It’s worth noting that while the two crimes are similar, falsifying evidence is a totally separate crime from perjury. Similarly, while you aren’t under oath while filing a police report, falsely reporting a crime is also a criminal offense.
Is Perjury a Felony in California?
As a matter of fact, yes. In fact, this felony offense can result in up to four years in prison, fines and more. When police officers perjure themselves in a police report they could face misdemeanor or felony penalties depending on the circumstances with the felony carrying a maximum sentence of three years. In some rare cases, if a person was executed as a result of a perjury then the person who lied or anyone who coerced or persuaded that person to lie under oath could be sentenced to the death penalty.
Defenses to These Charges
The good news is that to prove that you committed perjury, the prosecution must prove that you 1) said or wrote something untrue, 2) that you knew it to be untrue, 3) that you were under oath at the time, 4) that it was a material fact or related to one,meaning facts that could affect the outcome of the thing you swore to tell the truth about. If you have been accused of coercing or persuading someone else to lie under oath then the prosecution must prove those four details and that you influenced the other party to lie.
The most common defense to these charges involves arguing that you did not knowingly lie or omit facts. This may be because you simply did not know the real truth or because you misunderstood a question being asked of you. Similarly, if you lied about something immaterial, like your pet’s name, you will likely not be charged unless that detail was directly related to a material fact. Alternatively, if you were never placed under oath, you cannot be held responsible for lying.
Unfortunately, if you police often get people to confess against their best interests, which is why it is important to contact a lawyer as soon as possible if you have been accused of perjury so you can protect yourself from saying something that may harm your case later.
If you have been accused of perjury, please schedule a free initial consultation with Peter M. Liss at (760) 643-4050 to discuss your case.
Creative Commons Image by Beinecke Library