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What Is the Penalty for Lying under Oath?

By Leigia Rosales
Updated May 16, 2024
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The act of lying under oath is called perjury in most jurisdictions, although it can also be referred to as forswearing or lying on oath. In legal terms, it requires an intentional act of lying after a person has taken an oath or affirmation to tell the truth. Penalties for this crime can vary by jurisdiction, but often include imprisonment.

Perjury is a crime in many jurisdictions. A person can commit perjury by lying under oath either verbally or in writing. Although the possible punishment for this crime can vary, under the laws of many countries, it is considered serious and therefore carries a possible prison sentence if a person is convicted. In reality, however, prosecutions for perjury are somewhat rare in most places.

A person may commit perjury by testifying under oath and making a false statement during that testimony. Under the rules of procedure in most legal systems, a witness must be "sworn in" prior to beginning his or her testimony. Swearing in includes the witnesses agreeing, under the penalties of perjury, to tell the complete truth when he or she testifies.

A mistake of fact or an unintentional misrepresentation of fact is not considered to be perjury. In order for a witness to commit perjury during his or her testimony in court, he or she must intentionally make a false statement of fact. In addition, in many places, telling a lie about something immaterial to the matter before the court is not considered perjury. The statement upon which a charge of perjury is based must be something that was relevant to the court's decision in the matter before the court.

A person may also be guilty of lying under oath in writing. Many legal documents include a statement attesting to the fact that the person executing the document swears, under the penalties of perjury, that the information contained in the document is true and accurate. Once a person signs the document, he or she is subject to a charge of perjury if a material fact was misrepresented or a false statement was made in the document.

Perjury is often charged as a felony. In the United States, at the federal level and in most state courts, it is punishable by a year or more in prison. In the United Kingdom, perjury is punishable by up to seven years in prison.

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Discussion Comments

By anon954446 — On Jun 01, 2014

My partner was declared bankrupt. Even though she was mentally ill, the sworn affidavits said in the statements that they had never been in touch with my partner and had never received any payments from her and yet we had bank statements showing she had a direct debit each month paying her debt at 10 pounds a month.

By anon947601 — On Apr 26, 2014

I was involved in a case where I had dated this woman 12 years ago. I had lunch with this woman at her request because my current girlfriend and I had broken up. She found a sexy text that she had asked me about. I told her it wasn't for her and she hit the fan.

I know her mother (an elderly woman) very well and she told me not to contact her unless it had something to do with her mom. To make a long story short, she and her mother both lied on me in court and were caught lying by my attorney. They still convicted me and sentenced me to six months in jail (suspended). This was my first offense. I lost my job, my home, my vehicle, my cell phone, my friends, etc. I was denied unemployment, welfare and I don't know where I'll end up next -- maybe on the streets as a bum. I was in line for a six figure job that I had been waiting for all my life. All this because I sent a text message to the wrong person.

By anon359876 — On Dec 21, 2013

I did not have money to hire a lawyer, so I let an appointed lawyer represent me. They did more damage than I could imagine, and I wish I had not had a lawyer at all. My neighbor lied about me doing what I did not do. The judge ordered me to pay my neighbor $8600 for damages, and I cannot believe this.

Why does society allow liars to rise, and honest people to pay for the crime I did not commit? My neighbor is looking for an easy way to make money.

By anon348947 — On Sep 21, 2013

I just took my ex to court for contempt and after getting him to say, more than once, that he chose not to follow the court order, the judge ruled in my favor. I got a judgment from it and got to sit and watch my ex get lectured by the judge. The judge also told him that if he commits contempt again, he will face jail time.

Part of the contempt was my ex not paying his half of our daughter's braces. In court he told the judge, under oath, that he had set up for a few months now for the orthodontist to take $40 from his account every month. I got a call from the orthodontist the other day saying that he has not been paying them and that it was set up for them to take only $20 a month.

Would this be grounds for perjury since he knew he was not paying and was not giving them $40, but told the judge he was?

By anon339263 — On Jun 21, 2013

I've learned my lesson that those who commit perjury in court are rewarded while those of us who actually tell the truth get robbed. I sued an insurance company over a claim they denied, which, according to the policy wording, and what I was told by my agent, was covered. I sat through three days of trial and had to listen to their lawyer and claims adjuster lie over and over to the jury about the policy wording and to add insult to injury, I had to sit there and basically be accused of insurance fraud by the claims.

When we appealed the case and pointed out the numerous lies told by them, the judge couldn't have cared less. He denied the appeal and didn't even address the lies that we brought to his attention. I now know the only way to win a court case is to commit perjury because the judges and courts don't care. Instead they are the people who are rewarded.

By anon335271 — On May 19, 2013

The judicial system is broken because most people involved in the prosecution and defense are lawyers. It's fair to say 25 percent of them are just plain dishonest. About 50 percent of them are just plain lazy and don't lose one minute of sleep defending or prosecuting or searching for the truth. The 25 percent who actually care are judges who are overworked and very tired. This can all be summed up into one short sentence: Lawyers get their money for nothing, and real criminals get off for free.

By anon324961 — On Mar 13, 2013

The entire judicial system is a joke. Lawyers will promise to take care of matters and they do nothing but take your money.

By tudorgirl — On Oct 20, 2012

I would be grateful if someone could advise me in a situation. My son went out and met his friend whom he hadn't seen for some time, and this friend also met up with 54 of his friends who my son didn't know. They had a few drinks and later on as they were walking, one of the group shouted to three men about the same age (18) did they want to buy weed (although non of them had any). They said no, then one of the others pulled a penknife out and waved it at one of the three. It was in a dark area but under night CCTV. To make a long story, short some ran off and my son just froze. There was a confrontation, since this one dropped his phone and accused my son or someone of picking it up. My son told him to search him which he did and nothing was found – no knife or phone. By this time, there were about 18 people around.

The police arrived and arrested my son, but the one who pulled the knife wasn't arrested, nor was the other one. An hour or so later, the one with the knife called a number from the mobile phone and the one whose phone it was went back to police to say he had been offered the phone back for £20. It was arranged that the police would watch and then they arrested him (my son was still in a cell) then another was arrested. My son had told them the guy was involved, but the one with the knife refused to answer any questions. The other pleaded not guilty (the same as my son). At the time of the incident, my son told the officer to get the footage from the CCTV which surrounded the area, which would prove he was nowhere near the attack and not involved. The others – especially the one who had started it – were interviewed. I went to each meeting with my son's solicitor and he was told to stay away from all involved and not to contact any witnesses, which he thought would have also included his friend. Several requests was made by his solicitor to get a copy of the footage, and some 10 weeks later we were told that there was none, which was really devastating to my son.

I contacted the council several times to see if their was a way to get a copy, but was informed unless a copy was requested from the police it was too late. The prosecution's three witnesses are into amateur filmmaking, and 10 minutes before the trial started, we were informed that the film had turned up. We were thrilled. The other defendant viewed it for about an hour, then we watched. We heard the barrister tell the defendant this is you here, which was just a figure in the distance and could have been anyone. As he left the room, he confirmed the film was six minutes out. They left the room then we watched it. Immediately, my son told his barrister that it was not the film, that nothing made any sense, there was no incident, only two figures in the distance and it showed mountain biking stunts at the location of the attack, but his barrister did not want to know. He said he did not want to upset the judge.

The day continued and the following morning. Halfway through, it was obvious how important the CCTV how important it was, so l went out and telephoned the main controller who had told me no film was done. She also confirmed that it was impossible to be six minutes out. The max for their cameras was 10 seconds. Again, we told his barrister and he refused to act, and hardly spoke to us after. The three prosecution witnesses lied in court. They were asked if they took drugs or had used knives, and they all said no, yet on their film, they are as high as a kite and the main one is injecting his arm. The knives they used were big samurai swords.

My son has always suffered from anxiety and has never, ever been in a fight. He hates violence, Also, my son was described wrong in his clothing. Of the other two who got charged, one had seven convictions and the other had nine. My son had none but they were 17 and he was charged as an adult. They got 18 months and my son got 30 months.

Can he bring charges against the use of tampered or wrong evidence and also against the three for perjury? I did download everything. l would be really grateful for any advice about this. Sorry for going on so much, but it is so complicated.

By anon297980 — On Oct 17, 2012

Today I went to family court because my ex lost his job and filed a motion to delete his child support monthly charges. I responded because he has violence in his background from the past two years and it is frowned upon when children are involved. Well, I didn't use his documents as perjury because I was hoping the judge could just see for himself. I requested a motion to change venue on the grounds that the attorney was also a municipal judge in the same city ans the circuit judge that was hearing the case and the attorney was also his clients bro-in-law and I thought there could be a bias judgment on the proceedings. That request was denied and the hearing took place.

So it was time to shine. I asked many questions and one specific question many times and the witness (ex) denied the truth of the questions under oath. I then submitted proof of his perjury and stated to the courts that it was one part of his perjury just committed. I was allowed to then gain answers about the questions asked and finally got the true answer but not entirely, because he claims someone else paid for the proof I proved he committed perjury about.

Let's see what the judge rules on the case, because I can tell you it should be completely in my favor all the way. I must say pro se isn't too bad.

By anon292607 — On Sep 20, 2012

Perjury is condoned in our courts of law. We sued our insurance company -- Allstate -- for bad faith when they refused to pay our claim.

Allstate brought in someone who was willing to lie under oath. Proof that he committed perjury was given to the DA, but he refused to investigate it, but they were willing to put a welfare recipient who had gotten $800 extra into jail. We have a corrupt legal system, worse than a third world country.

By anon262743 — On Apr 20, 2012

I am involved in a custody case at the moment regarding my son. His mother and her family have all so far lied in sworn documentation and I have video evidence to prove it, but the court is allowing them to just continuously get away with the lies and every one of them does have a bearing on the case because they are resulting in me not seeing my son as often as I should. It also means my son is in a situation where there is an aggressive dog and people are looking after him who shouldn't be.

Their perjury has made a major difference in the case and while I do not want to stop my son seeing that side of the family, I do hope the court will stop messing about, realize they are lying under oath and in sworn documents and sentence them to jail. Every one of them really does deserve it.

The thing that troubles me is that it is my son who misses out because of their lies.

By helene55 — On Jul 25, 2011

@SaraQ- there were many problems with the Casey Anthony trial. In addition to the possibility of perjury in the fact you mentioned, there were also possibilities of withheld evidence- there were claims that dozens of searches were made on chloroform, when one of the software analyst said that he only found evidence of one search.

Who knows which is true, who ended up committing perjury and who did not? It is hard to say after the fact, I think, and it seems like the lying under oath punishment is especially hard to pin down when you also have things like "lost" evidence and holes in prosecution or defense arguments as well.

Considering all of this, it's amazing that any trials are considered to be done fairly at all.

By Catapult — On Jul 25, 2011

@burcinc- I agree that politicians ought to tell the truth. Everyone ought to tell the truth.

What I think doesn't work about using Clinton as an example is that the charges against him were honestly not very important. I'm not saying it's okay to lie about sexual harassment, what I'm saying is that they had very little to do with his job as president. Had the charges against him been more relevant, I think it would be a good example, though I do agree with your overall point.

By Tomislav — On Jul 24, 2011

@speechie - Speaking of the Marion Jones perjury case, I find that, of course, she should have a stiff penalty for lying about something that affected something that was as big as the Olympics.

But... doesn't anyone else feel that there should be less serious punishment or punishments that include tens of thousands of hours of community service for people who commit perjury in non-violent cases?

By Speechie — On Jul 24, 2011

While I'm sure there are many cases where people do lie under oath, and I do think lying under oath should have consequences, serious ones in fact (considering much of our court system depends on telling the truth under oath); there are many cases where people do go to prison for perjury.

For example, does anyone remember the Marion Jones controversy? She lied under oath about taking performance enhancing drugs and she received serious jail time. There are many hometown cases where people are sent to jail for perjury.

What I don't understand is why some people are prosecuted and others aren't? Especially in situations where there is substantial evidence that perjury may have occurred.

By Saraq90 — On Jul 23, 2011

I think our justice system may be a bit flawed when it comes to this matter of perjury.

During the infamous Casey Anthony trial, it was discussed that Casey Anthony's mother lied under oath, and there seemed to be enough evidence to look into this lie she may have made. However, the news reports say and I saw an interview with the prosecution who said Casey Anthony's mother will not be tried in court.

My concern is if we don't prosecute lying under oath, it doesn't matter what the lying under oath penalty is!

I feel this gives people caught in a difficult position the opportunity to think it may be better to take the gamble and lie under oath rather than to tell the truth. Just as @burcinc described that politician's are probably more likely to lie under oath because they saw another politician get away with it.

By ysmina — On Jul 22, 2011

@burcinc-- I agree that taking oath in court should have more weight but I think that many people actually get away with lying under oath, not just politicians.

I have a friend who was in a custody case for her daughter. Her ex-husband kept lying under oath but she was not able to prove it in court and he got custody. I think that our law system puts a lot of trust in people. It expects people who take an oath to basically listen to their conscience and be honest. But I don't believe that everyone has that conscience and that's where penalty comes in.

If the penalty of lying under oath is serious, only then will it deter people from lying. If people can lie and get away with it or if they get caught lying and are not given a heavy enough penalty, they will just keep doing it.

By candyquilt — On Jul 21, 2011

I work for a company that does translations for businesses. One of the things that is often done if a translation is going to be used to file a case or as evidence for any other legal process is to have the translator declare under penalty of perjury that the translation is correct.

As far as I know, intentionally mistranslating a document and then declaring under penalty of perjury that it is correct has the same penalty as lying under oath.I think this was the case with the Martha Stewart case as well.

So technically, anytime you sign or agree to something that says "declare under penalty of perjury" you are taking an oath that it is true. It will be treated the same as perjury if it is untrue.

By burcinc — On Jul 21, 2011

I guess there is a little bit of a double standard for politicians when it comes to lying under oath. Bill Clinton committed perjury and he was impeached for it. That is certainly a penalty but I'm personally not sure if it was enough.

I think perjury is a very serious crime and it makes sense for there to be monetary punishments and prison sentences for it. Especially if the person who is testifying holds a public office. How can we have leaders and representatives who are not honest and can take the risk of lying under oath in court? I think that's unacceptable. The Clinton case could have been a better example for future politicians if the penalty had been a little more serious.

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