What is Perjury in California?
Perjury is the offense of giving false information to the court or authorities while under oath. Circumstances under which you can be charged with perjury include providing false information:
- During a deposition in a court case
- During court testimony
- Within a signed affidavit
- Within a signed certificate
- Within a signed declaration
With perjury, you may receive additional criminal charges in the middle of fighting your original criminal case. The statute criminalizes false statements and is considered a crime against justice because it undermines the fact-finding efforts of the court. You can be charged with perjury even in someone else's case, during which you were just a witness and not a defendant.
If you did not know that the information you were providing was false, you generally cannot be convicted of perjury. Intent to provide false information is paramount to the conviction of this charge. In the absence of intent, no crime was committed. Alternatively, if your testimony is refuted only by a single source, you may not be charged with perjury, dependent on circumstance.
The law reads: "No person shall be convicted of perjury where proof of falsity rests solely upon contradiction by testimony of a single person other than the defendant. Proof of falsity may be established by direct or indirect evidence."
Therefore, if another witness's testimony contradicts yours, this is not necessarily a one-way ticket to a perjury charge. Evidence must be presented to establish the statements were false before proceeding in a charge.
Perjury can be a felony in California, with lofty penalties and potential jail time. If you have been charged with perjury in California, you are advised to immediately consult with an experienced California criminal defense attorney. An attorney may be able to show that you did know not your statements were false, or there is not enough evidence to show that they are. If convicted of perjury, you face up to 4 years in prison, at the absolute maximum.
How Does The Prosecution Prove Perjury
The prosecution will need to prove the following elements in order to convict on a perjury charge.
- An oath was taken in which you swore to provide true information to the court/authority questioning you. In taking this oath, you affirm your understanding of the fact that you must tell the truth. In the absence of an oath, your statements and their potential falsity are not subject to the same scrutiny.
- You intended to lie/provide false information to the authority. Intent is pivotal for the purposes of finding you guilty. To show intent, the prosecution must prove that you knew the information you were providing to be false, and despite being under oath, provided the false information to authorities anyway.
- Prosecutors must be able to prove that the information you provided was in fact false. There must be evidence, direct or indirect, to draw this conclusion. Contradictory witness testimony is not to be used as evidence of a false statement in the absence of some kind of direct or indirect evidence. Objective evidence aids the court in its mission of fact-finding. Bear in mind, an implied statement or even silence could be charged as perjury under qualifying circumstances.
- The prosecution must finally prove the materiality of the statements. Simply put: was the false information relevant and important to the direction of the case? If a witness or defendant provides false information about something immaterial/inconsequential to the case, they may not be found guilty of perjury.
For example, if a DUI suspect makes mention of something which is objectively false while under oath, but it has nothing to do with the case, he or she will likely not be found guilty of perjury. Materiality is established by showing that the information had a potential effect on the outcome of the proceedings.
Defenses to Perjury Charges
When backed by considerable legal experience and dexterity in the courtroom, your East Bay criminal defense attorney can successfully fight your perjury charges. Innocent people are sometimes accused of making false statements. Often, the allegation of perjury will arise from a statement whose supposed falsity is difficult to prove. Some statements straddle the line between truth and falsehood.
The following are potential defenses to the charge of perjury in California:
- You were mistaken in making the perjurious statement. You either did not mean to make the statement in question or did not know the content of your statement was technically incorrect. The belief that your statement was true is a solid defense to perjury if your attorney can successfully argue it.
- Your memory was genuinely impaired. You cannot be convicted of "misremembering" something. Human memory is imperfect and there is no guarantee or requirement that you have a spotless recollection of the events in question.
- Both prosecution and defense attorneys have been known to try and extract false information from a witness in order to prove a point within the case. The manner in which they ask questions can be confusing and convoluted, possibly leading you into unintentionally making a false statement, or having it seem that you did. Lawyers sometimes endeavor to get a witness to contradict themselves in order to weaken the credibility of their statements before the jury or judge.
- You may successfully avoid perjury charges by recanting (taking back) your false statement. You would acknowledge that your statement was false and retract it, in an effort the rectify the situation.
East Bay Criminal Defense Attorney
California criminal defense attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 30 years experience representing criminal defendants in the East Bay. She is prepared to fight your charges, defend your rights and protect your best interest in court. If you were arrested on perjury charges, contact criminal defense attorney Lynn Gorelick for a consultation on your case.