Juries and judges often base their verdicts, sentences, or other important decisions on sworn testimony and signed documents. Statements given under oath and certain legal documents are presumed to be truthful, or at least made in good faith. But how do we know for sure that witnesses and other parties involved in a legal matter are telling the truth? We can’t always be certain, but those who are caught knowingly misleading a court face serious criminal charges of perjury.
To “perjure” yourself is to knowingly make misleading or false statements under oath or to sign a legal document you know to be false or misleading. This crime is taken very seriously because the foundation of the legal system depends on trust and credibility. After all, just one sworn statement has the power to tip the scales of justice and dramatically alter someone’s life.
Perjury is considered a crime against justice, since lying under oath compromises the authority of courts, grand juries, governing bodies, and public officials. Other crimes against justice include criminal contempt of court, probation violation, and tampering with evidence.
There are a number of different ways you could perjure yourself, but the crime is committed either in statements made under oath or in signed documents.
Since witnesses and others involved in legal proceedings may unintentionally provide false testimony in good faith, prosecutors must be able to prove the intent to deceive or mislead. For example, a witness to a robbery testifies that the suspect had green eyes and a scar on his left cheek, but other evidence points to a suspect with blue eyes and a scar on his right cheek. Unless prosecutors can prove that the witness was trying to protect the assailant by knowingly lying about key facts, she hasn’t perjured herself just because her memory of the incident is hazy.
State and federal penalties for perjury include fines and/or prison terms upon conviction. Federal law (18 USC § 1621), for example, states that anyone found guilty of the crime will be fined or imprisoned for up to five years. Most state laws have similar provisions, but judges typically have discretion to use leniency (including probation in lieu of a prison sentence) where appropriate. If you’re convicted, you may even lose your livelihood. If you work in a profession where truthfulness is valued, such as the legal profession, law enforcement, and some public service jobs, you could lose your professional license.
Perjury is rarely charged and it’s hard to prove. However, the threat of perjury is often a tool prosecutors use to ensure that witnesses provide candid testimony and to garner convictions.
If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.