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What Is Considered Federal Perjury?

Perjury is lying under oath or giving false testimony under a number of different circumstances, particularly in court and in documents pertaining to a criminal case, and even in civil cases. The penalty, if you are convicted of federal perjury, is serious prison time and a significant fine.

If you, a family member, or someone you love is charged with perjury, it is in your and their best interest to consult with an experienced attorney who has experience in perjury law to ensure your Constitutional rights are protected.

Is Perjury a Federal Crime?

Under the U.S. Code (USC, Title 18, Section 1621), perjury is defined as materially and intentionally, making or endorsing as true, untruthful statements while under oath.

Perjury can also be tried at the state level, and charges can be independently filed at the federal level as well as at the state level. In New York, for example, there are three different degrees of perjury charges. If you are found guilty of third-degree perjury, a misdemeanor offense, you could face a punishment of up to one year in prison in addition to a fine of not more than $1,000. However, those convicted of first-degree perjury, a felony offense, face a three to seven-year prison sentence as well as a fine of up to $5,000.

Perjury takes two forms in Texas — perjury and aggravated perjury. Perjury, a class A misdemeanor in Texas, carries a penalty of up to one year in county jail and/or a fine of not more than $4,000. Aggravated perjury — perjury involving an official judicial proceeding, or which is material to one — carries a penalty of between two to 10 years in state prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

Federal Penalty for Perjury

The penalty proscribed for federal charges of perjury, as set forth by the USC, is a prison term of up to five years in length in addition to monetary fines.

Federal Perjury Statute of Limitations

The federal statute of limitations as it pertains to the crime of perjury is five years. However, this period of time may be extended in rare circumstances.

Federal Perjury Laws

Federal perjury laws centrally hinge around USC Title 18, Section 1621, but other sections (notably Title 18, Section 1623) also address the offense. The latter law is mostly concerned with perjury committed in front of a federal court or grand jury.

Section 1623, added to the USC in 1970, meant to address the burden of proof problems plaguing federal prosecutors working within the confines of Section 1621.

Defenses Against a Federal Perjury Charge

There are several commonly deployed defenses when facing charges of perjury.

The first is the argument that during the testimony or statements delivered while under oath, the defendant was making truthful statements and did not lie. Even if the defendant is deemed suspicious, it does not constitute perjury.

In rarer cases, recanting a false statement may also be a viable defense against allegations of perjury. In order for this defense to apply, you would need to recant the false statement during the same hearing that the initial false statement was made. The false statement itself must not have substantially (or materially) contributed to the body of evidence in the hearing.

Your attorney is dedicated to defending you. He or she can review the evidence against you and make legal judgments on the strength or weaknesses of the government’s case.

Your attorney also can conduct an investigation on your behalf to develop mitigating factors that the government has not developed, and perhaps uncover evidence and witnesses in your favor.

How Can a Lawyer Help With a Federal Perjury Charge?

Given that a federal perjury charge is generally classified as a felony, it is highly advisable that you secure the services of an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

Professional legal counsel increases your chance of fighting a perjury conviction. This will allow you to tell your side of the story, discuss legal strategies and what you’ll need to do next. Lawyers familiar with perjury charges can offer the most effective defenses and will be able to provide you with all legal courses of action available to you.

A criminal attorney can explain the nuances of the criminal charges and the criminal justice system you are about to enter. The attorney can weigh the strength of both the government’s case and your defense and recommend how best to proceed.

If you choose to strike a deal with the prosecution, your attorney will serve as your negotiator to secure the best possible arrangement to reduce your sentence and fine. But your attorney cannot force you to enter into a deal with the government. If you choose to fight the charge, your attorney will develop your defense strategy.

You and Your Attorney at Trial

At trial, your attorney will aggressively challenge the admissibility of the government’s evidence and the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses.

Criminal court procedures are as important as the evidence to be presented and your attorney will make various motions during the trial and make objections during the prosecution’s presentation. The results may prove beneficial to you on appeal should you be convicted.

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