Chicago US Attorney's Office | Federal Indictment for Perjury | Criminal Offense | False Testimony | Rockford US District Court

A summary of federal perjury laws

December 3, 2010

If a person testifies falsely after taking the oath, or writes a false statement on a document supported by affidavit, he can be prosecuted for perjury. The act is a criminal offense where the person knew the testimony or statement was false.

The states have their own laws on perjury when the offense takes place in state court or in relation to a state agency. For example, in Illinois, perjury is a Class 3 felony offense punishable by 2-5 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections. See 720 ILCS 5/32-2.

Untrue testimony or falsely sworn documents relating to a federal court or administrative agency can result in federal perjury charges. The penalty for a federal offense is almost always more severe than the sentence for a similar state law offense.

The federal perjury statute is 18 USC 1621. The elements of perjury are the following:

  1. A false statement.
  2. On a material issue.
  3. Made willfully and with knowledge that it was false.
  4. Under oath (by someone authorized to administer the oath).
  5. Before an authorized tribunal, officer, or person.

See 18 USC 1621.

A material issue is something that, in one way or another, determines the outcome of a legal proceeding. If the false statement would not or could not change the final disposition of a legal proceeding, then it is arguably immaterial and not a basis for perjury charges.

The sentence for this charge is a maximum of 5 years in prison.

In addition to the perjury charge, federal statutes provide a criminal charge of false declaration where the act occurred before a court or grand jury. Under 18 USC 1623, prosecutors can charge a person with making a false declaration where they can prove:

  1. A false statement.
  2. On a material issue.
  3. Made with knowledge that it was false.
  4. Under oath.
  5. Made before or in relation to a court or grand jury.

See 18 USC 1623. Sentencing for a false declaration is the same as perjury.

The false declarations statute was part of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 and intended to be used for perjury committed before a court or grand jury. The perjury statute is applicable to a broader range of conduct, including statements before a tribunal, officer, or person, whereas the false declarations statute only applies to statements before a court or grand jury. Federal prosecutors have discretion on which statute to use to prosecute a person for perjury.

These federal statutes apply to witness testimony and written statements made on legal documents (eg, motions, pleadings, affidavits, etc). A document that contains an affidavit, verification, certification, sworn declaration, or oath can be the basis of a perjury charge.

In many instances, a legal document does not have to be supported by an oath. Rather, it can be supported by a declaration that it is true (also called a certificate or verification). But the declaration should be in a form established by 26 USC 1746. It should read:

I declare (or certify, verify, or state) under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States of America that the foregoing is true and correct. Executed on (date). (Signature).

A false declaration in the form established by 26 USC 1746 can result in federal perjury charges.

Where the United States Attorney provides immunity to a witness in the prosecution of another, the immunity does not excuse perjury. The federal statute on witness immunity, 18 USC 6002, says immunity does not apply to

a prosecution for perjury, giving a false statement, or otherwise failing to comply with the order.

Federal perjury charges can result from violations of the tax code. For example, submitting a false tax return can be the basis of a perjury charge under 26 USC 7206. The penalty for filing a perjured tax return is different from the perjury statute. A violation of 26 USC 7206 can be 3 years imprisonment and a fine of $100,000. If the defendant is a corporation, the fine can be $500,000. The offender would also be liable for the costs of prosecution.

Making a false statement to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) can result in federal perjury charges. See 8 USC 1357. This offense would be charged under 18 USC 1621 and subject to the same penalties.

Previous post:

Next post: