Under California Penal Code 118, a person can be charged with perjury for intentionally giving false information while under oath. Charges apply to individuals who wilfully lie while giving testimony in court or in civil depositions, when giving a statement in a sworn affidavit or declaration, when filling out a driver’s license application, or providing information for other official certificates.
Perjury is a serious offense. Should you face perjury charges, your best defense is a California lawyer experienced with perjury cases.
What Are Examples of Perjury?
You can face perjury charges for giving false verbal or written testimony. For example:
- You lie on your claim for public benefits to increase the potential amount of financial help you will receive.
- You lie about the identity of a suspect when giving testimony in a criminal trial.
- You give false information about the injuries you sustained in a slip-and-fall accident when being deposed during an injury case.
- You give false information on a loan application, signed under penalty of perjury
How Is a Person Convicted of Perjury?
For a person to be convicted of perjury under PC 118, the prosecutor must prove:
- The defendant swore under oath to testify truthfully
- The defendant willfully presented the information as truthful, though knowing it was actually false.
- The false information given by the defendant was “material” to the case outcome.
- The defendant knew the testimony was untrue and that it was given while under oath.
- The defendant lied intentionally.
What Does It Mean to Be “Under Oath?”
In the California Court system, an oath is “an affirmation or declaration.” When you take an oath to tell the truth, you are legally affirming or declaring, either verbally or in writing, that your testimony is true.
What Is “Material” Information?
Material information is important to the case outcome. It is testimony used to decide an issue. Sometimes material information affects the actual outcome of a proceeding. Other times, it has the probability of influencing the outcome but does not ultimately have an effect.
Even if you provide a false statement that does not ultimately affect the proceeding’s outcome, you can still be charged with perjury if your false testimony was material to the case.
What Is Meant by “Willful” and “Intentional?”
When a person does something willfully and on purpose, it is not by mistake, accident, or coercion. To be convicted of perjury, the defendant must have delivered this false information willfully and to another person, either through oral or written testimony. If a person uses notes while testifying, and those notes contain an error, the notes are not evidence of perjury. The witness did not deliver or intend to deliver those notes to another party.
Similar in meaning to “willful,” “intentional” means the defendant knew they were giving untrue information and offered it on purpose. A mistake in memory is not an intentional act of false testifying. If a person gives false information in good faith, meaning they believed the information was true, they have not committed perjury.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for Charges of Perjury?
A prosecutor has three years from the date the act of perjury is discovered to issue charges. After the three-year date, prosecutors lose the opportunity to file.
What Are the Penalties for Committing Perjury?
In California, perjury is a felony offense that comes with significant legal punishments. Those convicted can face up to four years in state prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
Judges have the discretion to put convicted perjurers on felony probation rather than issue a prison sentence. Convicted felons must uphold all conditions of perjury established by the court and report to a probation officer.
A person can be charged with aggravated perjury if their false testimony leads to the conviction or execution of another, as per California PC 128. Life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or the death penalty are potential punishments for this crime.
What Additional Consequences Follow a Perjury Conviction?
A conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT) can bring additional fallout. There is no official definition for a CIMT, but crimes given this classification involve dishonesty, fraud, or morally depraved conduct. Perjury is included as a CIMT in California.
A conviction of a CIMT can:
- Damage your credibility should you testify in further court proceedings
- Strip you of your right to own a gun
- Lead to revocation of professional licenses and your ability to work in your professional area
- Affect your immigration status
How Can a Lawyer Defend You Against Perjury Charges?
A lawyer experienced and skilled in defending against perjury charges can help you avoid conviction or have your charges reduced. Based on the specifics of your situation, your lawyer will most likely build one of the following defenses:
- You did not willfully provide false testimony. For example, a defendant you witness a crime, and you testified falsely about what you saw because of threats of harm from the perpetrator. A California perjury lawyer can offer a defense of coercion to help you avoid conviction.
- You did not lie intentionally. You presented false information, but gave it in good faith or simply by mistake.
- The false information you gave was not material to the case. Material information can affect the outcome of a case. If the false testimony has no potential bearing on that outcome, it is not immaterial and not worthy of a perjury conviction.
- You were not under oath. If you had not been “sworn in” or were not signing or filling out forms under penalty of perjury, a perjury conviction is unfounded.
- You recanted your false testimony. Recanting requires an admission of false testimony before perjury charges are leveled and before the false information affects any aspect of the case.
Why Do I Need a California Perjury Attorney?
Perjury is a felony offense with the potential to cause serious damage and disruption to your life and household. A strong defense is your best protection. A California attorney with expertise in perjury cases has the knowledge of the law and legal system required to build that strong defense, potentially reduce your charges, have the charges dismissed, and mitigate your punishment.