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What are the Different Types of Perjury Defense?

By Ken Black
Updated May 16, 2024
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Though all witnesses in a court case may have a certain stake in the proceedings, some may go beyond the truth at times. If a prosecutor believes he or she can prove a sworn witness is lying, then the accused may choose to mount some type of perjury defense. Due to the fact that a perjury action is very difficult to prove, a number of defense strategies could be very effective against perjury charges.

One perjury defense that is commonly used is known as the literal truth defense. This strategy acknowledges the testimony in question may have been misleading, but argues that it did constitute the truth from a literal perspective. To avoid this defense, lawyers often ask very specific questions that cannot be interpreted in many different ways. If the questions are not very specific, then there is a better chance of a succeeding with a perjury defense of this nature.

Another common perjury defense is the claim that the person giving the testimony did not understand the question. Unless the prosecutor can prove that the accused understood the question in the proper context, it may be very hard to get a conviction. Often, this may be proven more easily if the person providing the testimony repeats the question, but most prosecutors do not require this.

A person providing testimony may use forgetfulness as a perjury defense as well. It would be difficult for the prosecutor to prove otherwise, though it may still be possible if there were other points in the testimony that refer to the same incident. Still, the prosecutor must effectively make the case that the accused person was able to think of relevant facts at the time he or she was testifying.

If the prosecutor can prove that the testimony the accused person provided was false, the prosecuting attorney must then prove that the individual in question knew it was false at the time he or she provided the testimony. This can also be difficult, as the person may make the point that he or she had incorrect information at the time. Often, proving this involves finding other evidence that the person, in fact, knew the truth in advance of the testimony. This may be done by tape recorded or written evidence, in many cases.

Given the fact that a defendant could use so many perjury defense strategies, many prosecutors will not bring charges unless they have something very compelling. Therefore, most potential perjury cases are simply threats to compel the witness to testify truthfully. Still, if you think you may be facing a possibly perjury charge, either before or after giving testimony, you should consult an attorney.

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Discussion Comments

By anon314593 — On Jan 18, 2013

What if someone wrote a letter for the defense and now wants to recant in order to get employment with the said party that is being sued?

By burcidi — On Jul 31, 2011

This is great information and the comments have been real helpful too.

My relative is being accused of perjury right now. In her situation, she didn't know the truth about a situation while she testified. She found out about it several weeks later. Now the courst is saying that she knew but intentionally lied while testifying.

What can she do? Is there any action that someone can take after testifying and learning the truth about the incident?

I personally think that she should have contacted the prosecutor when she found out the truth- tell them what happened, how she learned the truth and that she unknowingly made false statements during her testimony.

By ysmina — On Jul 30, 2011

@anon80978-- Lack of memory as a perjury defense is kind of tricky. It's actually a very popular defense. If you remember the Bill Clinton perjury trial and the more recent Lewis Libby perjury trial, both used the same line of defense to avoid conviction.

I have no doubt that not remembering is a valid reason for making a false statement. There is a lot of research out there that show that our memory is not like a tape recorder. You really might not remember, especially if you had other things in your mind or if you were occupied with some activity.

But you can't just say "oh, I can't remember what happened / what I said" and get off the hook. The court will want some sort of evidence. The good thing is that someone else's testimony can't prove your dishonesty, which can be to your advantage.

If the case is serious enough though, the court might even require a memory expert to testify about you.

By discographer — On Jul 29, 2011

@anon80978-- I'm no law expert, but I think that if you can prove that you have forgotten with a statement from a doctor or memory expert, it should not be considered perjury.

I agree with the article that perjury is very difficult to prove. Especially if there is no solid evidence to show that you intentionally lied, it's kind of your word against the prosecutors. At the same time though, you do want to take it seriously. I have even heard of literal truth defenses being rejected in some cases. Sometimes it can depend on the particular court and judge. It's always a good idea to do everything you can to prove your honesty.

By anon80978 — On Apr 29, 2010

if i can't remember what happened to me in a case can that be perjury? i did give a statement.

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