What is Perjury? - From Lie to Legal Issue

Contrary to popular belief, perjury is more than just telling a white lie--at least, legally. Facing perjury charges is serious and will not always result in ‘just a fine’ if pressed by prosecutors. Read on to better understand the different elements of perjury and how a skilled attorney can help: 

  • Materiality: the core of perjury charges;
  • Risks and Punishments of perjury; and
  • How an attorney can help you fight charges. 

The Materiality of a Perjurious Statement

At the heart of perjury is materiality, or material: the influence the perjurious statement has on the decision or decision-making of the proceedings. 

In other words, making a false statement about what type of juice you drank one morning in a case that is not concerned with your juice habits is not perjury.

Picture this scenario: you make a knowingly untrue statement under oath or penalty of perjury about something directly related to the case. That would be an example of perjury, considering your false statement could affect the outcome of a case. 

However: this does not mean a false statement unnecessary to the case’s outcomes will not be prosecuted. Its materiality can still be a matter of question even if it did not have an effect on the case. 

Now, does this mean you’re going to be prosecuted for making a false statement about juice? Chances are, probably not. 

Let’s say you are a witness in a trial for alleged theft. You make a statement under oath that you had not seen the alleged thief the day the crime took place. Yet, you did--and you know you did. 

Say the alleged is found guilty because the evidence against them was insurmountable. Though it might seem like your statement is inconsequential, the lie could still be prosecuted as perjury. 

Think of materiality as split between things material to you and the case--like a Venn diagram. On one side, you have things that matter to you (ex. your juice drinking habits), and on the other, you have the case of an alleged thief. In the middle, you have what matters to both you and the case, your connection to the alleged (ex. seeing the alleged thief the day of the crime). 

When giving a statement under oath, it is essential to tell the truth. The US Justice System is enshrined in uncovering the truth and ensuring an equitable outcome--not only for victims, but alleged criminals as well. A perjurious statement can disrupt that process and lead to more trouble for you. 

Risks and Punishments of Perjury

Perjury might seem easy to commit, especially when under pressure, but it is not prosecuted as often as you’d think. 

Nowadays, there are many cases where pursuing a perjury charge might do more harm than good. Missteps in speech are common enough in high-stress situations like a testimony--so much so that pursuing every single potential case would involve a lot of work to prove perjury in court. 

Plus, as noted above, perjury is a very technical crime requiring specific circumstances to build a convincing case. 

That being said, we live in an information and technology age. Text messages, emails, security camera footage, dash-cams, bodycams, receipts, and the like are all pieces of hard evidence that can be used to build a case against you. 

If you are facing perjury charges, there is a chance the prosecution will use anything they can to demonstrate discrepancies between your sworn testimony and reality. 

Maryland law is not too dissimilar from federal law when it comes to its definition of perjury or the way it penalizes it: 

Maryland Law

Federal Law

  • Misdemeanor crime
  • Up to ten years in prison
  • Up to five years in prison
  • Allows for up to $250,000 in fines

Whether perjury is a misdemeanor or felony varies state-to-state. Regardless, with the potential time in jail, you could spend in prison, it’s important to take charges as seriously as other felonies.

How can an attorney help? 

skilled Perjury Federal Defense Lawyer knows US and State Perjury statutes backwards and-front. 

With perjury being as technical as it is, it is important to trust someone who: 

  1. Believes you,
  2. Has experience mounting aggressive defenses against perjury charges, and
  3. Can take the time to review the details of your case start-to-finish. 

When an attorney reviews your case, they will determine how to defend you against the perjury charges you face. 

In some cases, you can avoid court entirely by recanting a false statement--a process your lawyer can walk you through and argue for in court. This does not mean you will avoid prosecution; it is, however, something that the court will take into consideration when reviewing your intent to mislead. 

Intent is the key to a perjury case: did you willfully and knowingly lie? Did you intentionally interfere with the proceedings to try and affect its outcome? These are the questions you and your attorney will focus on when crafting a defense. 

Do not go at it alone or accept defeat; the right lawyer is close by and there to help. They can and will fight hard for you so you can achieve the most optimal outcome. 

If you have any other questions about perjury, please contact our offices for a free consultation. 

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