Perjured testimony is rampant in courts across the country, yet those who lie on the witness stand are rarely prosecuted.
Perjury is a federal crime. Generally, a witness in a trial commits perjury when he or she knowingly and intentionally lies about a material issue. And if someone asked the witness to lie in court, they are guilty of subornation of perjury. Perjury is a felony. Punishments for those convicted vary from state to state, but carry a sentence of up to a year in jail. In addition, they face fines and probation. Under federal law, however, a person convicted of either perjury and subornation of perjury can be sentenced to prison for up to five years in prison, plus fines.
During an interview about his 2011 book, Tangled Webs: How False Statements Are Undermining America, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James B. Stewart said: “No one keeps statistics for perjury and false statements -- lies told under oath or to investigative and other agencies of the U.S. government -- even though they are felonies punishable by up to five years in prison. There is simply too much of it, and too little is prosecuted to generate any meaningful statistics.”
A University of Michigan Law School investigation found about half of the 1,900 wrongful convictions overturned in the United States since 1989 were caused by false allegations or perjury in court. Yet even the most egregious lies in court are seldom prosecuted, according to legal experts.
In California earlier this year, a man was released from prison after 18 years. He was accused by a 10-year-old girl of sexual assault. The girl had been coached by her mother to lie on the witness stand. The mother was in a custody dispute with the man at the time the allegations were made. The man was set free after the girl, now 30 years old, admitted she lied in court. After 18 years in prison, however, the release is little comfort for the 72-year-old, who is suffering from kidney failure and lingers in and out of a coma.
“We are so plagued with lying in the courtroom that it seems to have become just accepted,” said a California district attorney, who has formed a special perjury investigation unit and may bring charges against the mother of the girl who lied.
However, legal experts say perjury can be difficult to prove. The test for a successful perjury conviction is discerning whether the witness lied with intent, deliberately giving misleading or false testimony, or whether they believed at the time what they were saying was true.
Under U.S. Code, in order to find someone guilty of making false declarations to a grand jury or in court, the witness, under oath, has to have “made two or more declarations which are inconsistent to the degree that one of them is necessarily false.” It can be a defense against perjury if the witness, during the grand jury proceeding or in court, admits they lied and the lie did not substantially affect the case.
If you believe you have been falsely convicted of a felony based on perjured testimony, call the Seattle law office of Steve Karimi at (206) 621-8777 or contact him online.