Hi. Professor Albert here for this week’s edition of the THELAW.TV’s 2-Minute Law School. This week, we’re going to discuss perjury.
Perjury is the willful act of swearing a false oath or of falsifying an affirmation to tell the truth, whether spoken or in writing, concerning matters material to a judicial proceeding. Perjury is considered a serious offense as it can be used to infringe upon the power of the courts, resulting in errors of justice. In the United States, a general perjury statute under federal law classifies perjury as a felony and provides for a prison sentence of up to five years.
Perjury is a very difficult crime to prosecute. It requires proof that a defendant knowingly and willingly lies under oath about an issue that was important to the subject under investigation. There is a need to demonstrate that questioning of the defendant was clearly worded, the answer given was unquestionable, and that the witness knew it was false.
Perjury has most recently been in the news in three cases involving athletes who said under oath that they did not take performing enhancing drugs, but were later believed to have done so.
As perjury is a fairly difficult crime to prosecute, it often goes unpunished. In 2011, three counts of perjury were brought against all-time home run leader Barry Bonds related to the use of anabolic steroids. In 2012, former seven-time Cy Young award-winner Roger Clemens was acquitted of perjury charges, also related to the use of performance enhancing drugs. Most recently, cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted to doping for each of his seven Tour de France victories. It is likely that Armstrong will escape perjury charges, given that his sworn testimony on the topic is more than seven years old.
Except when authorized by statute, no civil action lies to recover damages caused by perjury or subornation of perjury. Lying parties and their witnesses are also shielded from civil liability for the closely related torts of slander and libel for falsehoods committed during a judicial proceeding. While perjury is a criminal offense, prosecutors often don’t have the time or resources to pursue these kinds of charges, leaving the crime largely unpunished.
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