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Defending Against Perjury Charges

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Apr 05, 2024

In the State of California, making statements under oath is taken very seriously—typically because, in many cases, the integrity of justice being served depends on the truthfulness of the statement.

Therefore, perjury is a serious felony in California as defined by Penal Code 118 PC. If you give testimony under oath and deliberately say something false, prosecutors may charge you with perjury if they have reason to believe that you made the false statement willfully. If convicted, you could face up to four years in prison.

Defending Against Perjury Charges
Perjury is intentionally giving false testimony under oath, punishable by fines and jail time.

PC 118 says, “(a) Every person who, having taken an oath that he or she will testify, declare, depose, or certify truly before any competent tribunal, officer, or person, in any of the cases in which the oath may by law of the State of California be administered, willfully and contrary to the oath, states as true any material matter which he or she knows to be false, and every person who testifies, declares, deposes, or certifies under penalty of perjury in any of the cases in which the testimony, declarations, depositions, or certification is permitted by law of the State of California under penalty of perjury and willfully states as true any material matter which he or she knows to be false, is guilty of perjury.

This subdivision applies whether the statement, testimony, declaration, deposition, or certification is made or subscribed within or without the State of California.

(b) 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.”

Related California Penal Code 127 PC, subornation of perjury, says, “Every person who willfully procures another person to commit perjury is guilty of subornation of perjury, and is punishable in the same manner as he would be if personally guilty of the perjury so procured.”

Fortunately, to convict you of perjury, prosecutors must prove more than just that your statement was false—they must also prove that you deliberately lied under oath. Strategies are available to defend yourself against charges of perjury.

What is the Definition of Perjury Under California Law?

Perjury in California is not merely about lying; it involves making a deliberately false statement after taking an oath to testify truthfully. The law demands that for a statement to qualify as perjury, it must be made willfully with knowledge of its falsity and under circumstances where the person has sworn an oath to speak the truth.

The gravity of perjury lies in its potential to undermine the foundational principles of justice and due process. To prosecute a person for perjury successfully, the following elements must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • Oath Taking: The defendant must have taken an oath to testify truthfully, under penalty of perjury. This ensures that the individual understands the obligation to provide accurate information.
  • Willful Falsehood: The accused willfully stated information they knew at the time to be false.
  • Materiality: The false statement must be "material," meaning it has the potential to influence the outcome of the proceeding or decision-making process. (Lying about something directly affecting the case does not qualify as perjury.)
  • Awareness of Oath: The defendant knew they made the statement under oath.
  • Intent to Deceive: There was a clear intention on the part of the accused to testify falsely when making the false statement.

What Are Some Examples?

EXAMPLE 1: During a high-stakes corporate lawsuit, a senior executive (Brad) is called to testify under oath about the company's compliance with specific environmental regulations. Despite being aware that the company had knowingly violated these regulations on multiple occasions, Brad states under oath that the company has always complied with all environmental laws and regulations. Brad can be charged with perjury under PC 118.

EXAMPLE 2: Jason is called as a witness in a burglary case. When asked about when he observed a suspicious person near the crime scene, Jason states under oath that it was around 7:30 PM, believing this to be true. However, after reviewing security footage, it was determined that the sighting occurred at 8:00 PM. Although the witness's statement is false in this case, it does not constitute perjury because Jason's statement was an honest mistake with no willful intent to deceive.

What Must Be Proven for a Perjury Conviction?  

To convict you of PC 118 perjury, a prosecutor must prove all the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, including the following: 

  • You took an oath to testify truthfully under penalty of perjury,
  • You willfully stated that information was accurate when you knew it was false,
  • The information was relevant and material,
  • You knew that you were making the statement while under oath and
  • You intended to testify falsely when you made the false statement.

You could be charged under perjury laws when you provide information in any of the following circumstances: 

  • Providing testimony in a courtroom,
  • When you are being deposed,
  • In a signed affidavit, declaration, or certificate and
  • In a DL 44 driver's license application at the DMV.

An “oath” is described as an affirmation or any other method authorized by law to affirm the truthfulness of a statement. A statement is “material” if it was used to affect the outcome of a proceeding or had the probability of influencing the outcome.

What Are the Common Defenses Against Perjury Charges?

Facing a perjury charge can be daunting, but there are several defenses that a skilled California criminal defense attorney might employ to counter the allegations. These defenses typically revolve around disproving one or more of the elements required to establish the crime of perjury.

Lack of Willful Intent

Defenses Against Perjury Charges

One of the most common defenses is arguing that the false statement was not made willfully. If the defense can demonstrate that you believed the statement to be true when it was made or if the statement was made mistakenly, inadvertently, or as a result of confusion, this can negate the element of willfulness.

Under perjury laws, you are only guilty if you make a false statement and intend to make it. It is not perjury if you make a false statement with a good faith belief that it is true.

The Falsehood Was Not Material

If the false statement is shown to be irrelevant to the outcome of the proceeding or decision-making process, it may not meet the legal definition of perjury. Demonstrating that the statement was immaterial can be a powerful defense.

No Knowledge of Being Under Oath

Depending on the circumstances, your attorney may argue that you did not understand the significance of the oath or were not adequately informed of your obligations under oath.

No Intent to Deceive 

Your attorney may present evidence that your false statement was made inadvertently or by mistake, indicating that you had no intent to deceive or mislead anyone when you made the statement. 

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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