Understanding the Federal Offense of Perjury

Posted on in Federal Crimes
Chicago federal perjury defense attorney

Most people have at least heard of perjury, and you probably realize that being accused of perjury is a serious matter. You might know that perjury means lying under oath, but did you know that it is a federal crime? There are a number of federal statutes that address and criminalize perjury and related false statements, but two, in particular, are used most often to prosecute perjury. Section 1621 of Title 18 of the United States Code is commonly used to prosecute perjury before administrative, legislative, and judicial bodies, while Section 1623 of Title 18 addresses false statements made before grand juries and federal courts.

While there are differences between these two statutes and their applicability, the overall definition of perjury remains largely the same. It may seem like a simple definition, but prosecutors must prove several distinct elements to obtain a conviction on perjury charges.

Perjury Can Only Occur Under Oath

Making false statements is not always perjury. In order for a false statement to constitute perjury, it must be made under oath. For example, if you are being questioned by the police and you make a statement that is not true, you cannot be found guilty of perjury because you did not swear an oath to tell the truth. To be considered “under oath,” a person must make a promise to give honest testimony, and the promise must be made before a person with the proper authority to administer such an oath, including an officer of the court.

Perjury Requires a Statement

Perjury can only be alleged if the person in question actually makes a statement. You cannot be convicted of perjury for remaining silent. Depending on the situation, you could face other charges or sanctions, including contempt of court, but refusing to make a statement is not considered perjury.

Perjury Involves Intended Deception

This element is more complicated because it involves proving a person’s intent. Making a false statement is only considered perjury if the person who made the statement did so knowingly and with the intent of deceiving the judge or jury. Inadvertently stating something that is not true is not perjury, particularly if you were not aware the statement was false.

The Statement Must Be Material

A material statement is a statement that is likely to be important in a given proceeding. Lying under oath is never a good idea under any circumstances, but if you give a false statement about information that is not material to the case, perjury charges are unlikely. It is crucial to understand, however, that it is not up to you to decide what is and what is not a material statement. In addition, a false material statement could lead to perjury charges, even if the false statement has no obvious effect on the outcome of the case.

Contact a Chicago Federal Crimes Defense Attorney

There is no such thing as a minor federal criminal charge. Any such charge, including that of perjury, can lead to serious penalties if you are convicted. For help with defending against federal charges, contact an experienced Chicago federal criminal defense lawyer at the Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel. Call 312-629-0669 for a free consultation today. Our phones are answered around the clock, so we are always available to take your call.


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