Perjury in Federal Court in Mississippi
Perjury is the act of giving false testimony after taking an oath. Federal courts take perjury very seriously. When witnesses make false statements or give false testimony under oath, the integrity of the judicial system is compromised. For this reason, U.S. Attorneys zealously prosecute suspected perjury cases. Anyone convicted of perjury faces a prison sentence of up to five (5) years.
The Primary Federal Perjury Statutes
Many different federal statutes deal with perjury and false statements. However, there are two (2) primary criminal laws that federal prosecutors routinely use to prosecute persons accused of perjury.
Perjury in Federal Court and Government Agency Proceedings
In cases where a person is accused of committing perjury orally, the Government typically brings charges under 18 U.S.C. § 1621. Section 1621 applies to false testimony given before federal courts, agencies and even Congress. This section also applies to false testimony offered to the grand jury.
To convict a person of perjury under Section 1621, the Government must prove:
(1) that the defendant took an oath;
(2) that the defendant made a false statement;
(3) that the defendant knew the statement was false;
(4) that the statement was material to the proceedings.
The Government must prove each of these elements beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict the defendant of perjury.
Unsworn Statements Under Penalty of Perjury
In cases where the accused is charged with lying on an unsworn declaration, the Government will likely charge the defendant under 18 U.S.C.1623.
This statute is used where a person lies on an official written statement, document or form “under penalty of perjury.” No oath is actually given in these cases. The documents involved in Section 1623 cases contain the following language, just above the signature line:
I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States of America that the foregoing is true and correct.
The person executing the form will and sign the form just below this sentence. A person can be prosecuted for perjury if he intentionally makes false statements on the document, and then signs his name, even though he never took an actual oath.
To obtain a perjury conviction for an unsworn false declaration, the Government must prove the same things as it does under Section 1621. The only substantial difference is that instead of an oath, the Government must prove the statement contained the language “under penalty of perjury” in the acknowledgment.
Issues and Defenses in Federal Perjury Cases
Perjury is a crime that may seem simple for the Government to prove. However, there are many technical legal requirements that the law places on prosecutors in perjury cases. Issues that may arise in a perjury case include:
Venue is the location where a person may be charged with an alleged crime. Generally, perjury charges must be filed in the federal district where the false testimony was allegedly given. Venue is a valuable legal right. If the Government prosecutes a person in an improper venue, this may seriously interfere with the accused’s ability to defend against the charges.
The Defendant Must Know His Testimony Is False
To be convicted of perjury, the defendant must have known that his testimony was untrue, at the time he gave the testimony. It is not sufficient for the Government to prove that the testimony given by the Defendant was false. Merely giving testimony that turns out to be incorrect is not perjury under federal law. Stated another way, a person cannot be convicted of perjury if he believed his testimony or statement was true at the time it was given.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the accused cannot be guilty of perjury where he gives false information due to:
(1) Confusion about the true facts to which he testified;
(2) Honest mistakes about the facts alleged to be false; or
(3) Faulty memory as to the matters to which he testified.
This standard can be quite difficult for the Government to meet. The Government is basically required to prove what the accused knew and believed when he gave the allegedly false statements. Proving what another person knew or believed can be nearly impossible.
The Perjury Trap Defense
The Perjury Trap defense is a form of the entrapment defense, that may provide a complete defense to a Perjury charge. This defense usually arises when a person is accused of lying to a grand jury.
The Perjury Trap is a claim that the prosecutor called the witness to testify before the grand jury in order to entice him to commit perjury. The defendant must put forth evidence that his false testimony was procured by the Government.
The Perjury Trap is known as an “affirmative defense.” As such, the accused has the burden of proving the Government committed misconduct in inducing him to commit perjury.
Successful Perjury Trap claims are rare, due primarily to the fact that most prosecutors would never engage in this misconduct. However, because the Perjury Trap defense may provide an absolute defense, a Mississippi federal criminal defense lawyer mustinvestigate this possibility in every perjury case.
Evasive Answers and Bad Questions
A person cannot be convicted of perjury if his response to a question is literally true, but is evasive or does not answer the question. An evasive answer does not answer the question. An evasive answer may mislead the jury, but likely will not constitute the crime of perjury. The reason for this is that the witness did not make a false statement.
A related issue may arise where the question asked of the accused was so vague or ambiguous that it would be unreasonable to expect the accused to know what the question meant. If so, the defendant cannot be convicted of perjury.
Some questions may be subject to various interpretations. If the questioner meant the question to mean one thing, but the accused reasonably interpreted the question to mean something else, then there should be no conviction for perjury.
The compound question is the type of bad question that may cause testimony to appear to be false, when in actuality it was true. A compound question is a single question that asks about two or more facts. This type of question may cause the accused to appear untruthful.
The problem with compound questions is that the witness may give an answer to only one part of the question, yet appear to be answering both parts of the question with the same response. The law recognizes that it would be inherently unfair to convict someone of perjury simply because the lawyer conducting the examination asked a poor question.
The question that the accused allegedly answered untruthfully must be carefully dissected to determine whether it was vague, ambiguous or subject to more than one interpretation. If so, this may provide a defense to an indictment for perjury.
“I don’t remember”
A witness is sometimes tempted to falsely claim that he does not remember a fact or event, instead of truthfully answering the questions. A witness who falsely claims that he does not remember can be prosecuted for perjury. However, these cases are extremely hard for the Government to prove.
To convict the accused of perjury based on his claim not to remember, the Government must prove: (1) that the defendant at one time knew the fact he claimed not to remember, and (2) that he had to have remembered it at the time he testified.
The length of time between when the defendant would have known the fact, and the time when he gave his testimony is considered in determining whether he must have remembered at the time he testified. The longer the period of time, the more likely the accused honestly did not remember at the time he testified.
Other considerations include whether the accused remembered less significant facts, or events that occurred before that which he claims not to remember.
Recantation (“Fixing” False Testimony)
When a witness intentionally gives false testimony, he may be entitled to avoid a perjury conviction if he recants the false testimony. Recantation means that the accused intentionally gave false testimony, but then took immediate action to correct the false testimony.
To avoid prosecution due to recantation, the accused must retract his testimony in the same proceeding, and admit that the testimony was false. Additionally, there are other requirements to effectively recant and correct false testimony.
NOTE: If you have given false testimony under oath, you should never, ever try to recant your testimony before consulting with an experienced Mississippi federal criminal lawyer. Recantation is a highly technical matter that requires numerous precautions to protect you from a perjury prosecution, even though you are trying to correct your testimony. Therefore, you should not attempt to do this yourself before consulting with legal counsel.
The two-witness rule states that a person cannot be convicted of perjury based on the unsupported testimony of one witness. To convict a person of perjury, the Government must present two witnesses to establish that the accused lied, or one witness plus other evidence that indicates the testimony was false.
Federal Perjury Lawyer in Mississippi
Federal perjury cases are not as simple as deciding whether a person lied under oath. The law places tough obstacles to the Government convicting you of perjury. Federal statutes and court rulings have provided numerous defenses to perjury charges. To navigate these complex legal issues, you need a smart, meticulous Mississippi federal criminal lawyer. For a free case evaluation, please call 601.898.0685.