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Penalty of Perjury Explained

Penalty of Perjury Explained

The act of intentionally lying in a court of law is called perjury, and it is a legally punishable offense. The Buzzle article below explains the penalty of perjury.
Buzzle Staff
Quick Information
Inconsistent and false statements lead to perjury; the statement must be made in court or similar proceeding, and it must be a material statement―in connection to the outcome of the case.
"I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." How many times have you possibly heard this line in your life? Fifty? Hundred? If you are a movie and television freak, there is probably no count to the number of times you may have come across this line. The American Law System constitutes the foundation of the Federal Government of the country.
According to the American legal system, in court, everybody is supposed to take an oath that they will speak nothing but the truth, for it is truth that leads us towards justice. When you are under oath and you are found to have lied intentionally, you will have committed perjury. The paragraphs below explain the penalty of perjury.
What is Perjury?
  • By definition, perjury means, in simple words, to lie in court while asserting to speak the truth. This act is an unethical and criminal offense.
  • A person is said to commit perjury when he misinterprets the truth or intentionally lies, under oath, while swearing to speak the truth initially.
  • Not just in court, but providing false information and lying to the law to protect oneself is also considered as perjury.
  • The lie that is told must be related to the case though. That is to say, if the person is found to lie under oath, but the fact about which he lied has no relation to the case in question, the act is not considered as perjury.
  • This point is specifically important when one is accused of perjury. On no account should a misinterpretation of the truth or a blatant lie be considered, if the same is not associated with the case.
  • Of course, this does not mean you should lie in court. But, you will be accused only if your lie affects the judicial proceedings.
Penalty of Perjury
  • Every state has different laws for penalty of perjury; in fact, some states may not have any laws at all.
  • The Federal law, however, declares heavy fines and an imprisonment of up to five years for perjury.
  • This is followed by almost all states; however, many factors are considered before actually accusing someone of perjury.
  • The declaration under penalty of perjury states that under the law, wherever a matter requires evidence by a person, it should be provided in the form of a written statement.
  • In most jurisdictions, the penalty of perjury is an imprisonment of one year to 5 years, and in severe cases, even 10 years.
  • The accused may also be ordered to pay heavy fines.
  • It is important to remember that imprisonment charges depend on how many times you have committed the crime, that is to say, if you have been accused of lying three times in court, and the jurisdiction declares an imprisonment of one year per offense, you could be facing three years in prison. Thus, multiple offenses will result in multiple punishments.
  • Sometimes, it may be up to the judge to decide on the appropriate course of action. He may reconsider the case and then decide how to punish the offender.
  • It is very difficult to prove perjury, because one may not be sure whether the lie was told in fear of someone, or accidentally, or whether a threat is in question.
  • Also, as mentioned earlier, all untruths do not qualify for perjury.
  • A lot of legal documents are signed under penalty of perjury.
  • Income tax documents include a sworn declaration that the information is completely true. If it is found to be false, the accused will face up to three years in prison.
  • You will be convicted of perjury even in case of a falsely signed affidavit or certificate.
  • In case the accused is a witness in his trial, his punishment will be increased further, and other charges are likely to be added.
I declare under penalty of perjury, under the laws of (name of state), that all the information contained in this document and other subsequent documents is true and correct to the best of my knowledge, with complete awareness that the information provided in this document is subject to investigation, and that any information, if found to be false, may be the grounds for conviction of perjury and related legal consequences.
Famous Cases
Mark Fuhrman:
A former detective of the Los Angeles Police Department, Mark Fuhrman is known to have played an active part in the investigation of the Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman murder cases. He was convicted of perjury after the Simpson trial for lying about the use of racial slurs. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment and a fine of USD 200.

Jeffrey Archer:
A successful British novelist of the 80s and 90s, Jeffery Archer was accused of perjury in a 1987 case; he had apparently paid a prostitute to go abroad and had stated the same as a philanthropic deed, while the tabloids unearthed the actual reason as his old paid relationship with the prostitute. He was accused of perjury and sentenced to two years in prison.

Lil' Kim:
Rapper Lil' Kim was accused of perjury on account of providing false testimony in a firefight that involved her entourage and a rival rap group. The court found camera footage that proved her lie in court; she was then sentenced to prison for a year and had to pay a hefty fine of USD 5,000.

Barry Bonds:
Barry Bonds was accused of perjury on account of not misinterpreting the truth. Apparently, his trainer was accused of supplying performance-enhancing drugs to a number of athletes, including Bonds. Bonds, however, stated that he had no idea of what his trainer gave him, and that he did not know that he was being provided with.

Chris Webber:
NBA Basketball star, Chris Webber was accused of perjury in the year 2002, for lying to a grand jury about receiving funds. The booster from whom he was receiving money was charged in a money laundering operation later on. Webber was then charged with criminal contempt, and paid a hefty fine of USD 100,000.

Marion Jones:
One of the world's fastest runners, Olympic athlete, Jones lied about not having taken any drugs or chemical substance to improve her performance on the track. Her claim was found to be false, and she was convicted on two charges of perjury, a six-month imprisonment, and a probation period of two years.

Alger Hiss:
Time magazine editor and a former communist, Whittaker Chambers, accused Alger Hiss, a former State Department official, of being a communist and a spy for the Soviet Union. Hiss denied these charges; however, subsequent investigation proved otherwise, and solid evidence was found at Hiss's farmhouse in Maryland. He was convicted of perjury and was handed a 5-year prison sentence.
There are a lot of conditions that need to be considered prior to accusing someone of perjury. Irrespective of what the law defines, however, as a responsible citizen, one must abide by the rules and avoid lying when under oath. Why and under what circumstances the lie was told is a totally different issue; a lie is a lie, come what may, and one day, you will have to face the legal consequences of the same.