Perjury, also known as forswearing, is the act of lying or making verifiably false statements on a material matter under oath or affirmation in a court of law or in any of various sworn statements in writing. It is important that the false statement be material to the case at hand—that it could affect the outcome of the case. It is not considered perjury, for example, to lie about one's age, unless that person's age is a key factor in proving the case.
Perjury is considered a serious offense as it can be used to usurp the power of the courts, resulting in miscarriages of justice. In the United States, for example, the general perjury statute under Federal law provides for a prison sentence of up to five years, and is found at . See also . In the United Kingdom the penalty for perjury is a prison sentence of up to seven years, however prosecutions for perjury are rare.
The rules for perjury also apply to witnesses who have affirmed they are telling the truth. Affirmation is used by a witness who is unable to swear to tell the truth. For example, in the United Kingdom a witness may swear on the Bible or other holy book. If a witness has no religious beliefs, or does not wish to swear on a holy book, the witness may make an affirmation he or she is telling the truth instead.
The rules for perjury also apply when a person has made a statement under penalty of perjury, even if the person has not been sworn or affirmed as a witness before an appropriate official. An example of this is the United States' income tax return, which, by law, must be signed as true and correct under penalty of perjury (see ). Federal tax law provides criminal penalties of up to three years in prison for violation of the tax return perjury statute. See .
Statements of interpretation of fact are not perjury because people often make inaccurate statements unwittingly and not deliberately. Individuals may have honest but mistaken beliefs about certain facts or their recollection may be inaccurate. Like most other crimes in the common law system, to be convicted of perjury one must have had the intention (mens rea) to commit the act, and to have actually committed the act (actus reus).
In some countries such as France and Germany, suspects cannot be heard under oath or affirmation and thus cannot commit perjury, regardless of what they say during their trial.
Famous people who have been convicted of perjury
- Jonathan Aitken, British politician, who was a member of John Major's cabinet, was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for perjury
- Jeffrey Archer, British novelist and politician, was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment for perjury
- Mark Fuhrman, LAPD Detective in the O.J. Simpson case, entered a plea of "no contest" to a perjury charge for his testimony in Simpson's murder trial.
- Alger Hiss, alleged Soviet spy who worked for the United States Department of State, was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment for perjury and served 44 months.
- Dr. Cecil Jacobson, American fertility doctor.
- Lil' Kim, American rapper.
- Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and assistant to President George W. Bush, was convicted of two counts of perjury, along with other offenses in connection with the Plame affair. President Bush used his executive clemency power to commute the jail sentence.
- Mike Martin, Texas State Representative, pleaded guilty to a perjury charge resulting from his testimony before a grand jury investigating his attempted assassination in 1981.
- Martha Stewart was convicted of four of five counts, including making a false statement to a federal agent.
Famous people accused of perjury
Famous people who have been accused of perjury include:
- Barry Bonds has been indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly perjuring himself in testimony before a grand jury in 2003 as part of the BALCO steroid scandal, in which he denied using any performance-enhancing drugs.
- Former Houston Police Chief Clarence Bradford - was indicted by Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal for alleged swearing at fellow Houston Police officers; perjury charge was dismissed due to the lack of evidence and/or fabricated charges.
- Rickey Lynn Stokes: Owner of A-Advantage Bonding Co., Dothan Alabama. Also Owner of www.rickystokesnews.com, Was found Guilty
of Perjury by The City of Dothan Alabama.
- Former U.S. President Bill Clinton was accused of perjury and as a result was impeached by the House of Representatives on December 19, 1998. The Senate acquitted him on the false testimony charge as cause to remove him from office by a vote of 55 not-guilty votes to 45 guilty votes. No criminal charges were ever brought, though Clinton was later fined for contempt of court and, after thorough negotiations, agreed to be temporarily disbarred to avoid the possibility of a lengthy criminal trial.
- Joseph Ejercito Estrada, the 13th President of the Philippines, was accused of perjury.
- Alberto Gonzales, the former attorney general of the United States, is under investigation by an independent counsel for lying to congressional committees about the firing of 8 U.S. attorneys (see:Dismissal of U.S. attorneys controversy).
- On March 24, 2008, Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was criminally indicted for possible perjury and obstruction of justice charges concerning sexually-charged text messages sent to his chief of staff, Christine Beatty (both were married at the time). Both are suspected of lying about the existence of those messages under oath while testifying in a whistleblower lawsuit against the city of Detroit, which cost the city 8.4 million dollars. According to the Detroit Free Press, he was the third mayor of the city to be criminally charged.
- Rafael Palmeiro faced perjury charges (but was never charged) for possible false testimony in front of Congress regarding steroid use in professional baseball. Roger Clemens is currently under investigation for the same.
- Several witnesses, including five members of the Scottish Parliament at the time, in the Sheridan v News International defamation case. This is currently under police investigation.
- Paul Burrell - Boasted about lying in the inquest into the death of Princess Diana.
- Mike Martin - Texas State Representative accused of orchestrating his attempted assassination.