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What is the Statute of Limitations for Perjury?

By Christy Bieber
Updated May 16, 2024
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There is no universal statute of limitations for perjury, since every jurisdiction has the freedom to set its own — and some have none at all. In the United States the time period is typically five years for federal court matters, but there is wide variance for civil disputes, most of which happen at the state level. A lot depends on how serious the perjury was, what it involved, and where it happened. Some countries, including Australia and the United Kingdom, do not have any sort of statute of limitations for most perjury cases. Anyone who is concerned about a specific act of perjury should usually talk to a lawyer who knows the local laws.

Types of Perjury

Some statutes are very broad, covering almost every type of perjury, but in many cases how long the statute runs depends at least in part on the nature of the crime. The most serious forms of perjury usually happen in the courtroom where witnesses or parties give false testimony; this is particularly problematic in criminal matters where convictions hang in the balance. It can happen in many different ways, though. Omitting information on a tax return, lying in a written, signed document, and embellishing the truth in any sort of sworn statement are other examples.

Differences by Jurisdiction

Perjury is considered a crime in most places, but how different legal systems treat it varies widely. In the majority of locations within the United States, including at the federal level, the statute of limitations for perjury is five years. This means that, from the time in which the perjury is thought to have occurred, the individual who is accused of lying under oath can be charged and tried only for the next five years. Once more time than this passes, the individual is usually immune from prosecution.

Different courts and localities usually have the power to make their own rules and can draw distinctions between criminal and civil cases, for instance, or between testimony made in person and statements sworn in writing. In Canada the statute of limitations varies by province and by court, though five years is the general standard. In both the United Kingdom and Australia, however, there are generally no restrictions on bringing perjury cases, no matter how much time has passed.

Importance of Finality

One of the main reasons jurisdictions put time restrictions on these sorts of cases is in order to ensure that decisions or adjudications are final. Without a statute of limitations, people might never be able to fully move on with their lives and business dealings with the confidence that they wouldn't be sued for actions that happened in the distant past. There is also an argument that, if perjury wasn’t noticed within five years, the case should be dropped because it couldn’t be that important or critical. Some laws use these sorts of statutes as a way to discourage lawyers and others from digging up past wrongs far into the future.

Information Availability

After too much time has passed there might also be questions of information freshness, as witnesses involved with the case may have moved on or scattered. Particularly when it comes to testimonial perjury, putting together a new action — either for the prosecution or defense — can be difficult since people may no longer remember events accurately and other forms of evidence may be lost or destroyed. Some lawmakers believe that it could be unfair to prosecute someone for perjury long after the crime was thought to be committed, since he or she may no longer be able to collect sufficient evidence to prove innocence.

Importance of Counsel

It’s usually really important for anyone curious about specific statutes to do research about their jurisdiction’s rules, or to talk with an attorney who is familiar with court proceedings there. Five years is a general benchmark for countries and regions that uses a statute of limitation for perjury, but there are often differences that depend on geographic location, type of perjury, and general setting. As with many things in the law there are usually a number of exceptions, and a lot depends on the specifics of the case at hand.

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Discussion Comments
By anon285235 — On Aug 14, 2012

I signed a paternity agreement stating I was the father. At the time, it was explained to me by my now ex wife, that since no father had ever been listed on his birth certificate, all I had to do was put my name there. She filled the form out and I signed it.

Fast forward five years later. A major event happened causing the dissolution of our marriage. In the divorce, we both agreed there were no children, i.e., she took her child and I left the marriage with my three kids. The divorce went through and our lives separated. Then two years later I get served with child support papers. I got a lawyer, and she filed for paternity testing to be done, but the ex wife never showed for it, knowing all the while that the child was not mine.

A declaratory judgment was ordered eventually, saying I was indeed not the father. Then the AG of Texas filed an appeal based on this new evidence that I had signed a paternity agreement in 2004. I had never asked legal advice about what I signed beforehand, which was my mistake, as in line 1 it said, "We do hereby declare under perjury..." The judge agreed I was not the father, but then went on to say that the ex wife and I committed perjury by signing that paternity agreement. So I am rewarded by not having anything further to do with this child support stuff, but now I being told I face felony perjury charges along with her.

During the entire time I was with this child and his mother, I never used him as a tax exemption and never received any form of assistance. The paper was signed in 2004. The perjury discussed was today in 2012.

I am wondering if there is a statute of limitations in this case that should be addressed to prevent this from actually being brought to trial. Neither one of us, when we signed, had a mindset that we were committing perjury at the time of that signing.

I am just wanting to know if the judge has the right to send this to criminal trial for perjury or not?

By pleonasm — On Apr 21, 2012

@Iluviaporos - Well, I also think it's got a lot to do with money. It costs money every time they persecute anyone and I think in some cases perjury isn't all that much of a serious crime. Obviously in other cases it is, but three years seems like a good compromise, especially since it's unlikely for a reason to persecute to come up after that point.

By lluviaporos — On Apr 20, 2012

@indigomoth - I agree that the statute of limitations for perjury maybe should be a little bit longer than it is currently, but I do think the statute should exist.

You have to remember than perjury is a very difficult thing to prove one way or another in a lot of cases. And it is often in lawyers' best interests to prove it since it can really help a difficult trial to show that someone is lying.

So, it won't just be people who actually commit the crime who have to worry about persecution. Anyone who gives testimony has to worry about being eventually dragged up on charges for perjury, even if only to throw their words into doubt when an appeal is being pursued.

The statute of limitations is there for a very good reason.

By indigomoth — On Apr 20, 2012
Of the two reasons given I think the second one has the most weight when it comes to reasons why there might be a statute of limitations for perjury.

As to the first one, well to some extent I think, so what? Why should the person who committed the crime be able to move on with their life without fear of being persecuted after only three years.

In fact the prison sentence for perjury in the United States can be up to five years. So, if someone commits the crime they can either go on the run and spend three years living with the fear of being caught, or five years in actual prison.

I know which one I would prefer! It hardly seems like a deterrent.

On the other hand, the second reason, that it would be very difficult to mount a defense, seems like a much more valid reason. Although, that could be applied to any crime really and I doubt the statute of limitations applies to Of the two reasons given I think the second one has the most weight when it comes to reasons why there might be a statute of limitations for perjury.

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