Perjury is defined as willfully taking a false oath or vow (written or spoken) in regards to a judicial hearing. Perjury, also known as false swearing or lying under oath, is committed by a witness or defendant who knowingly omitted or lied about facts that directly affect the outcome of the case.
For example, one will not be convicted of perjury if he or she lies about his occupation, given that the individual's job has no outcome on the court's decision.
The act of perjury dates back centuries ago to Roman times, where it was classified as a sin rather than a crime. Over time the act was mandated by law and became a severe crime with ambiguous contexts. The most difficult aspect of perjury is proving that it took place. In order to be convicted, indisputable evidence needs to be present documenting that the defendant, while under oath, knowingly made a false statement regarding material facts to benefit his or her case.
The two key words necessary to convict someone of perjury are "indisputable" and "knowingly." There are 3 specific rules that are attached to the concept of perjury. The first rule: "Answers to questions under oath that are literally true, but unresponsive to the questions asked, do not, as a matter of law, fall under the scope of the federal perjury statute." Even if the witness intends to mislead the prosecutor or questioner, perjury will still not be present.
The second rule: “Answers to fundamentally ambiguous questions cannot be perjurious.” The third rule sets forth that: “A perjury conviction cannot rest solely on the testimony of a single witness.” Perjury convictions are not decided based on oath vs. oath, or a game of adolescent "he said vs. she said".
The leading case in regards to the law of perjury is United States v. Bronston. This particular trial asked the question of whether or not perjury can be committed with a "literal truth" answer under oath.
Unbeknown to many, the act of perjury extends beyond a judicial setting. A person can commit the act under penalty of perjury, which encompasses all critical forms such as tax returns, deeds, license applications, or legal documents. An individual can be found guilty through penalty of perjury if he/she knowingly lies or supplies misinformation that will benefit them directly.
A common example of penalty of perjury is when an individual cheats on his taxes and supplies false information to the IRS to lower his income, get a greater refund, or illegally write something off. Although the terminology may be confusing, a penalty of perjury is simply a written form of perjury, or one that was not made under oath.
The same requirements still stand in order to be convicted. Perjury is considered to be a very serious offense because it's seen as an attempt to usurp the courts and interfere with the administration of justice.
In the United States perjury is considered a felony, and if convicted an individual can face up to $15,000 in fines and/or 15 years in prison. The average sentence for a conviction is roughly 3-5 years. Penalty of perjury is also a serious matter, but the penalties are significantly less because there was no "miscarriage of justice present."
A penalty of perjury will most likely result in a hefty fine, a return of the monies plus tax, or a jail sentence of up to 3 years. Perjury laws like many in the United States are subject to variation between jurisdictions and State lines.
Understanding your area's laws regarding this act, the intricacies within the law, and what actually constitutes perjury are necessary to avoid potential disaster. Perjury does not affect those simply under oath or in a court setting, but every citizen in the United States who files taxes or even fills out a driver's license application.