Perjury – Penal Code Section 118
The crime of perjury occurs when a person intentionally lies about an important matter in a legal proceeding.
Elements of the Offense
To convict a person of the crime of perjury, the prosecutor must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
1. The defendant took an oath or testified under penalty of perjury to truthfully:
a. Provide testimony in a legal proceeding;
b. Declare or certify facts in a legal document;
2. When testifying, declaring or certifying that the information was true, the defendant knew that it was false.
3. The information was material.
4. The defendant knew that he or she was testifying under oath, or under penalty of perjury.
5. When testifying, signing or certifying the document, the defendant intended to make the false statement.1
Defenses to the crime of Perjury may include:
A. No Knowledge of Falsity: The prosecutor must prove that the defendant “knew” that the statement was false. If a defendant offers inaccurate testimony, his statement does not amount to perjury if he was operating under a mistaken belief in the truth of his statements when testifying.
B. The False Statement was not “Material”: Defense counsel may argue that the false statement was not material.2 If it appears that the client made a false statement, defense counsel should aggressively assert that the statement had, or would have, no meaningful impact on the outcome of the legal matter.
C. The Statement Was Not False: Defense counsel should challenge whether the statement was actually false. Often times, the allegedly false statement resulted from an ambiguous, compound or confusing question. The question that evoked the false statement should be thoroughly scrutinized to determine whether the defendant actually had a specific intent to lie or deceive when answering.
The judge has a number of sentencing options:
(a) Felony Probation and an accompanying local jail sentence of 0 to 365 days.
(b) A felony jail (local prison) sentence of 2, 3 or 4 years.3
(c) A split sentence under Penal Code Section 1170(h) which includes some length of confinement in a county jail followed by a period of mandatory supervision.
Punishment is always case-specific and may differ by jurisdiction. The Ventura County Superior Court system tends to harshly punish any person convicted of perjury. Ventura County prosecutors can be expected to argue that the defendant’s act of perjury strikes at the very integrity of the justice system. Accordingly, Ventura County prosecutors typically seek stiff punishment for anyone convicted of the offense.
Perjury prosecutions can be very complicated. You should only hire an experienced defense attorney to take on a perjury charge. Facts surrounding the defendant’s alleged false statement should be thoroughly explored by counsel to demonstrate that he did not have a specific intent to knowingly and intentionally lie. Prosecutors often have a difficult time proving that the defendant had the “specific intent” to “knowingly” make a “false” statement under oath.
About the Author:
Bill Haney is a former supervising prosecutor in the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office. At your initial consultation, Mr. Haney will outline a defense for you that is designed to give you the best possible chance for a successful outcome in court.
(1) CALCRIM 2640.
(2) Chein v. Shumsky (2004) 373 F.3d 978
(3) Pen. Code § 118; see also Section 1170(h). The defendant will not receive a local prison sentence, however, if he has a disqualifying prior conviction, including a serious felony conviction pursuant to Penal Code Section 1192.7(c), a violent felony conviction pursuant to Penal Code Section 667.5(c), a registerable sex offense under Section 290, or an aggravated economic crime under Section 186.11.