Virginia Federal Perjury Attorneys
Almost everyone has seen movies or television shows that depict witnesses taking a sworn oath in court to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” What many people may not realize is that testifying under oath, whether it’s in a federal courtroom, in a deposition in a civil case, or a formal statement before an administrative agency, is a very serious undertaking. Those who are accused of testifying falsely under oath in Virginia, what is commonly referred to as perjury, face serious charges and possible penalties including substantial periods of incarceration and monetary fines, which could impact both their career and personal life. A Virginia federal perjury lawyer will be able to explain any charges you may be facing and the options available to you.
Perjury is a federal criminal offense under 18 U.S. Code Section 1621. Though perjury is most often associated with testimony before a court, the crime may apply to depositions, official administrative agency proceedings, or any other time an oath is lawfully administered. Perjury furthermore applies to written statements that include sworn declarations. For example, if a person provides false information on a sworn bankruptcy petition filed in federal bankruptcy court, he or she may be accused of perjury in addition to potential tax fraud allegations. To be convicted of perjury, the government must prove that a defendant knowingly and intentionally testified falsely under oath.
The Basic Elements of Perjury
In order to convict an individual of perjury in federal court in Virginia, a prosecutor must prove the following elements:
- A false statement (oral or written);
- Relating to a material issue in the case, proceeding, or investigation;
- Made under oath;
- Made willfully and knowing it was false; and
- Made before an authorized officer court or administrative proceeding authorized to administer an oath.
The prosecutor must prove every one of these elements beyond reasonable doubt in order for the jury to convict the accused of perjury. This is where the skills and resources of a well-qualified Virginia federal perjury attorney can be especially key when it comes to building the strongest possible case to protect your assets and legal record.
Additionally, when the government suspects that a person has unlawfully induced or forced another person to lie under oath, that person could be charged with subornation of perjury under 18 U.S. Code Section 1622. For example, if someone is accused of bribing or threatening a witness and causing that witness to lie, the accused could be prosecuted for suborning perjury.
Federal Perjury Penalties
Those who are convicted of perjury in federal court may be sentenced to up to five years in federal prison and may be ordered by the court to pay a heavy fine. In some cases, those who have no prior convictions may be eligible for a probationary or suspended sentence, depending on the individualized characteristics of their case and the recommended Voluntary U.S. Sentencing Guideline range. However, every sentence is ultimately at the discretion of the trial judge.
Defenses to Perjury Charges
There are many different defense strategies that may be employed if you find yourself accused of federal perjury charges. The following are just a few examples of possible defenses. Depending on the particular circumstances of your case, a Virginia federal perjury lawyer can assist you with determining the best course of action for your particular case.
- You were not properly placed or sworn under oath. If the proceeding in question did not require an oath, or if a witness did not actually take an oath, you may be able to argue a procedural violation as part of your defense.
- You did not intend to lie. Intent is a key requirement for a perjury conviction as the law requires that the perjury was willful and knowing. If you unwittingly made a false statement due to confusion, a mistake, or memory lapse, you have a strong argument that you did not knowingly or intentionally commit perjury.
- The statement is not material. Even if you intentionally and knowingly make a false statement under oath, if that statement does not materially affect some aspect of the case it does not constitute perjury. Immaterial statements are those that are not significant enough to substantially affect the outcome of the underlying case in which the false testimony allegedly occurred.
Finally, under certain circumstances a person accused of perjury may be able to argue that the false testimony at issue was not perjury because the witness recanted the false statements. This defense is available only if the accused recants prior false testimony that was given under oath, and the witness recants during the same proceeding in which the false testimony was given.
Common Myths About Perjury
There are some common myths and misconceptions that we should address. Some witnesses who make a false statement under oath, believing that they can avoid prosecution for federal perjury by simply recanting their statement at a later date, should be very careful. Though recantation can often be used to demonstrate a witness did not have the intention to mislead the court, such an act may also draw attention to the fact that the previous testimony or statement was untruthful. Perjury is a serious offense and those convicted of perjury in federal court may have their lives significantly disrupted. For this reason, anyone asked to testify under oath in a federal proceeding should consider consulting with an experienced Virginia federal perjury lawyer.