Perjury is simply making a false statement under oath. Under Section 210 of the New York Penal Code, committing the crime of perjury is to intentionally make a false sworn statement which you do not believe to be true, while giving testimony or in writing while under oath, such as in an affidavit or deposition. The crime has varying degrees, each with its own punishment.
Seeking legal counsel before you speak to investigators or sign any statement is the surest way to avoid being caught in a lie. An attorney at The Blanch Law Firm can guide you through your testimony or statement so you do not stray. In the event that you have already made a potentially false statement or have been charged with doing so, we can provide a solid defense to ensure the best possible outcome in your case.
Perjury comes in several degrees. According to the state penal code:
- A person is guilty of perjury in the third degree when he swears falsely.
- A person is guilty of perjury in the second degree when he swears falsely and when his false statement is made in a subscribed written instrument for which an oath is required by law, and made with intent to mislead a public servant in the performance of his official functions, and the statement is material to the action, proceeding or matter involved.
- A person is guilty of perjury in the first degree when he swears falsely and when his false statement consists of testimony, and is material to the action, proceeding or matter in which it is made. Perjury can also be charged when a person makes two inconsistent statements under oath. Even if the prosecutor cannot tell which statement is false, the fact that the statements are inconsistent means one of them is false, and a perjury charge can be filed.
Perjury can only happen under oath. The oath can be made to a grand jury, judge, notary or other official witness and the person must have vowed to tell the truth. It is not perjury to make a false statement outside of official proceedings or in a document that will not be part of an official proceeding. Perjury also involves a false statement, either verbal or written. Failure to make a statement is not perjury. The statement must be intentionally misleading and it must be “material,” or capable of influencing the proceeding where it is presented. So, a lie under oath that has nothing to do with the issue being considered is not subject to a perjury charge.
Perjury in the third degree is a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and up to a $1,000 fine Perjury in the second degree is a class E felony punishable by up to 4 years in prison. Perjury in the first degree is a class D felony punishable by one to 7 years in prison.
Several defenses are available to a perjury charge. Of course the chief defense is that the statement was true, even if it was intended to mislead. Also, if you retract your false statement during the proceeding before the statement substantially impacts the proceeding, you may avoid a perjury charge. One may also argue that the prosecutor set up the witness, knowing he would lie, even though the prosecutor did not really need the information asked for. Winning this perjury trap defense can be complicated and requires a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. Unfortunately, the following are not defenses to perjury:
- The defendant was not mentally competent to make the allegedly false statement
- The defendant mistakenly believed the statement was not material
- The oath was taken improperly or was taken by a person whose authority was defective (credentials had expired, etc.)
The federal perjury statute, 18 U.S. Code Section 1621, parallels the state law. The chief difference is that the false statement is made in a federal proceeding. Punishment for violating the federal statue is a fine and up to five years in prison.
Many of the more prominent perjury cases involve federal charges. Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s was convicted of lying and obstructing an investigation; Martha Stewart was convicted of lying about a stock sale; and Olympic gold medalist Marion Jones pleaded guilty to lying about using performance-enhancing drugs. One of the notable cases in New York involved former Gov. David A. Paterson, who was fined by the Commission on Public Integrity for lying about taking free World Series tickets from the New York Yankees. After a lengthy investigation, the state decided not to pursue perjury charges.