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What is Perjury?

Candace Lehman, Jessica Schubert
  • Author
    Candace Lehman

    Candace Lehman has taught all subject areas in 4th and 5th grade for over 12 years. She has a Bachelors of Science in Elementary Education from Missouri State University. She holds a lifetime teaching certificate in the state of Missouri for Birth-6th Grade.

  • Instructor
    Jessica Schubert

    Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

What is perjury? Learn the definition and meaning of perjury, read about the penalty for perjury under federal law and state law, and see perjury examples. Updated: 09/17/2021

What is Perjury?

The perjury definition is the crime of lying while under oath by giving misleading facts about an issue or a person that the witness is asked to testify about in a court of law. A witness is someone who has gained valuable information that is needed for justice to be served in some court cases. Before a witness takes the stand to give their testimony, they are sworn in, meaning they swear under penalty of law to tell the whole truth to the best of their knowledge about the event they have been selected to testify about. The witness has to proclaim that they will, "tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" while placing their left hand on a bible and their right hand in the air. Placing a witness under oath is a serious part of court proceedings and telling the truth is vital for justice to be served.


Perjury is committed when a witness lies while under oath in a court hearing.

What is Perjury


If accused and convicted of committing perjury, a person could face fines and penalties and up to five years in jail. Lying under oath is punishable under the penalty of the law. The penalty placed on a person convicted of perjury is up to the judge's discretion. Many judges are lenient when it comes to perjury accusations since perjury is very difficult to confirm to have taken place.

The Penalty of Perjury Meaning

A Penalty of Perjury is a type of affidavit, a notarized statement, that has been signed by the witness. If the accounts in the document provided by the witness are false, he or she can be found guilty of perjury.

Why Would Someone Commit Perjury?

By committing perjury, a person involves themselves in a possible miscarriage of justice. Perjury is a very serious criminal offense. A witness might commit perjury for many different reasons. They could be remembering the events wrong, they could be trying to make a guilty person look innocent, or they could be trying to frame an innocent person to look guilty.

How is Perjury Proven

The meaning of perjury is lying under oath in a court of law. It is difficult to prove a witness has committed perjury. For example, if multiple people witness the same car accident from different angles they could all have a truthful account of what happened that is different from the other witnesses. They are not being untruthful; their recollections are just how they perceived the action.

Perjury can be proven and charges made if it is an obvious lie. For example, if a witness claims the defendant was with them on the date and time in question, but it can be proven by video or photographic evidence they in fact were not, perjury has taken place.

Perjury convictions are rare, given the difficulty to prove, but when perjury can be proven there are different levels of penalties.

Definition

Imagine that you were a witness to a crime where a woman was robbed. You saw the entire thing and know exactly what happened. You are in court, observing the case where the defendant is on trial for the burglary. A friend of the defendant is called to the witness stand to provide his version of the facts of what happened. The friend says that the defendant did not commit the crime. In addition, the friend's statement of what happened is a lie, which you know because of your firsthand observation of the crime. This friend's lie represents perjury in the legal world.

Perjury occurs when a witness purposefully and intentionally lies to mislead the court of the facts of the pending matter. When one typically provides a legal statement, whether the statement is made on paper or in person (such as in the court), the statement will be sworn. This means that the statement is made under penalty of law. In other words, one swears to tell the truth or suffer the consequences of lying, which is imprisonment and/or fines.

Penalty for Perjury

The penalty for perjury has existed since the 1970s; however, it is very difficult to prove that perjury has occurred beyond a shadow of a doubt. Most judges tend to air on the side of leniency when giving a sentence for perjury. If convicted of perjury a person could also be in jeopardy of losing his or her job.

If the person that commits perjury is convicted of another crime, a conviction of perjury can add to their sentence or fine. It is the judge's discretion what the additional penalty could be.

Perjury Penalties
State Fines- the amount is set by a judge
Jail Sentence or Probation for up to five years
Federal Fines- the amount is set by a judge
Prison up to five years

Perjury Examples

The meaning of perjury is when a witness takes a legal oath to tell the truth but does not keep that oath and lies while giving testimony on a particular case, event, or person. Examples of perjury could be:

  • The purposeful telling of a lie while under oath to tell the truth in a matter a person is called to testify for
  • The purposeful telling of a lie on a written document that is submitted to the court as a testimony of evidence
  • Any matter of breaking any oath or formal promise while testifying
  • Inducing another to commit an act of perjury
  • Conspiracy to commit perjury

Penalties

When one commits perjury, there can be both imprisonment and penalties instated as a consequence of the lie. In addition, a judge could impose other types of penalties, such as community service.

The penalty for the commission of perjury is controlled by either federal law or state law. Under federal law, if one lies during the court proceeding, the maximum penalty is no more than five years of prison time or fines. Under the state law, one must look to the particular state where the action occurs, since that state will control the maximum amount of jail time or type of fine one may incur for committing perjury.

Example

Perjury can best be understood by a set of examples. Let's say that Robert is testifying about his wife's infidelity. Robert purposefully lies, saying that his wife had multiple affairs, when he knows for certain that she has not had any affairs during their marriage. This purposeful and intentional lie would constitute perjury.

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Additional Info

Definition

Imagine that you were a witness to a crime where a woman was robbed. You saw the entire thing and know exactly what happened. You are in court, observing the case where the defendant is on trial for the burglary. A friend of the defendant is called to the witness stand to provide his version of the facts of what happened. The friend says that the defendant did not commit the crime. In addition, the friend's statement of what happened is a lie, which you know because of your firsthand observation of the crime. This friend's lie represents perjury in the legal world.

Perjury occurs when a witness purposefully and intentionally lies to mislead the court of the facts of the pending matter. When one typically provides a legal statement, whether the statement is made on paper or in person (such as in the court), the statement will be sworn. This means that the statement is made under penalty of law. In other words, one swears to tell the truth or suffer the consequences of lying, which is imprisonment and/or fines.

Penalties

When one commits perjury, there can be both imprisonment and penalties instated as a consequence of the lie. In addition, a judge could impose other types of penalties, such as community service.

The penalty for the commission of perjury is controlled by either federal law or state law. Under federal law, if one lies during the court proceeding, the maximum penalty is no more than five years of prison time or fines. Under the state law, one must look to the particular state where the action occurs, since that state will control the maximum amount of jail time or type of fine one may incur for committing perjury.

Example

Perjury can best be understood by a set of examples. Let's say that Robert is testifying about his wife's infidelity. Robert purposefully lies, saying that his wife had multiple affairs, when he knows for certain that she has not had any affairs during their marriage. This purposeful and intentional lie would constitute perjury.

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Create your account

Frequently Asked Questions

Is perjury a federal crime?

Perjury can be a federal crime when taking place in federal court. Perjury can be convicted at the state level and at the federal level.

What happens if you are charged with perjury?

Perjury is difficult to prove; however, if a person is convicted of perjury they will face penalties. The convicted person can receive fines and or jail time up to five years.

How is perjury proven?

Perjury is difficult to prove. If a witness gives testimony while under oath, and that testimony can be proven as untruthful by video, photographs, or eyewitness accounts, they could be charged with perjury.

What is an example of perjury?

An example of perjury would be a witness lying while giving in-person testimony about an event or a defendant in a court case.

What does it mean to commit perjury?

Committing perjury means that a person has lied or given misleading information regarding a court case. Perjury is a serious offense and can cause justice to not be served.

Why is perjury a crime?

Perjury is a crime when it is committed while under oath. When a witness takes an oath, they are making a legal promise to tell the truth to the best of their abilities.

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