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What is a False Statement?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A false statement is a statement which is factually untrue. When someone makes such a statement, however, it is not made with the intent to mislead, which distinguishes it from a lie. These types of statements may be subject to legal penalties in some regions, as for example in contracts which can be broken if one party later discovers that the other party made a false statement about an issue key to the contract's nature.

People can make false statements without knowing it, or they may do so willfully. For example, someone might state on an application for health insurance that he or she has never had acne, forgetting that this is not the case, or might make this statement thinking that a brief bout of acne is not important and therefore does not need to be disclosed. In neither case is the applicant attempting to mislead, although that untrue statement may in fact weighed when considering whether or not to accept the application.

Punishment for a false statement usually depends on the nature of the statement and how material it is to the facts of a matter. It can include fines and imprisonment. However, judges will consider factors like genuine lack of knowledge which led someone to make an untrue statement without realizing it. Likewise, if someone makes a false statement because a question is poorly worded or not understood, this can be a factor in determining the penalties.

If someone makes a false statement and later becomes aware of it, he or she should bring it to the attention of a lawyer to see which options are available for clearing the matter up. To avoid accusations of making false statements, people should make sure that they fully understand questions when they are asked, and they should request clarification if a question is not clear in nature.

When people commit perjury, by contrast, they lie with the deliberate intend to mislead. To borrow the insurance example again, if someone knows that disclosing a past history of acne is likely to lead to a denial or to a higher premium and decides to lie on the application, this is perjury. Likewise, if a witness on the stand deliberately misstates information with the goal of misleading, as for example if a witness says that he or she saw something but really did not, this is also perjury.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon358689 — On Dec 12, 2013

I filed a complaint to the New Zealand Law Society regarding a lawyer for the child outlining she committed perjury/lied about an assistant of an organization expressing her concern for a child's lack of speaking clearly stating/implying the child could have a speech impediment.

When I followed this up and spoke with the assistant about this concern, the assistant denied she made these statements, as she had no concern for the child in his speech or otherwise and that it was the lawyer for the child who prompted the 'questions about the child's speech,' implying a possible speech impediment developing.

The lawyer for the child stated the child should be seen by a speech therapist and child development center. Both these organizations state a child has to be referred by a teacher or social worker to the Ministry of Education before a speech therapist becomes involved and the investigation has to also state that you as the parent are concerned for the child's speech, as well. None of the educators involved in the child's life were concerned, and neither were we as the child's parents. You see, he is only two years and 6 months. So logic tells me that this lawyer for the child who has never really sat down with us to discuss these matters, but has followed the instructions of a Cyfs court appointed safety worker who only met the child in the three hour period while talking with me, the social worker and family member, none of whom have ever expressed concern for this child in question. Astute educators have told me 'the child will talk in his own time'. --Jane

By tigers88 — On Aug 11, 2011

I hate to get too philosophical but all wrapped up in this issue of "false" statements is the issue of truth. Truth, just like non truth, is entirely subjective. There are not many, if any, things that we can say are absolutely, universally, empirically true.

Now we could debate this endlessly but luckily in practice this concept is a little less elusive. The law has established benchmarks for establishing what is true and false and as a culture we have developed cultural norms which help us make the same determination. Without these we would all spend the entire day scratching our heads wondering about the nature of our smallest choices.

But it is interesting to think about what is really true and really false because, as this article illustrates, these distinctions have consequences.

By tlcJPC — On Aug 10, 2011

I hate to rock the boat, you know, but it just seems to me that this business that differentiates a false statement from a lie is a bunch of political correctness gone wrong.

Mind you, certainly a person can make a false statement and not mean it. But it just seems like if you are willfully telling an untruth, it is indeed a lie.

It’s different when a person says something that is wrong unknowingly or even accidentally. That isn’t lying; that’s a mistake.

But to knowingly, willingly tell someone something that you know is inaccurate, despite all that political correctness has to say about it, is just plain flat out lying in my book.

By Sunny27 — On Aug 10, 2011

@Suntan12 - I think that false statements can also be a part of a fraud perpetrated on banks and insurance companies. Many years ago when banks offered no documentation loans, there were many borrowers that gave false statements with respect to their incomes.

Misstating their income allowed them to receive loans that they would have normally not qualified for and since the bank was not requiring proof of the income these people got loans.

Mortgage fraud also occurs when a homeowner gives a false statement explaining that the home that they are buying is their primary residence when they were actually looking to rent out the property as an investment. This allows the homeowner to get a lower interest rate on their loan, but it is a false statement that constitutes mortgage fraud.

The same could be said if a person is involved in an accident and offers a false statement about what occur or how badly they were hurt in order to receive a larger benefit from the insurance company. These false statements contribute to insurance fraud which is on the rise in many areas. I think that when you lie it always catches up with you one way or another.

By suntan12 — On Aug 09, 2011

I wanted to add that you can be charged with false statements and perjury if you give false statements in a police investigation and then repeat these lies in court.

Once you repeat the lies in court you have committed perjury. I read that both crimes are punishable by up to five years in prison but most prosecutors choose to charge a person with one charge or the other.

I know that many attorneys that have been convicted of these charges have actually lost their law license and have been disbarred.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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