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Defenses Against Perjury Charges in Federal Court

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Mar 07, 2024

Witnesses must tell the truth under oath for the criminal justice system to operate fairly toward defendants and for juries to deliver informed verdicts. 

This is why perjury, lying, or misrepresentation under oath is considered a serious crime in the federal court system. All states have laws penalizing perjury, but committing this act in federal court can result in significant prison time and substantial fines. 

Defenses Against Perjury Charges in Federal Court
Perjury is lying or misrepresenting under oath in federal court and carries harsh penalties.

Not every false statement is a deliberate act of perjury (e.g., sometimes it's just inaccurate or someone misremembered the facts), and the prosecution has the burden of proof to show that a defendant willfully committed perjury. 

18 U.S. Code 1621 perjury generally says, “(1) having taken an oath before a competent tribunal, officer, or person, in any case in which a law of the United States authorizes an oath to be administered, that he will testify, declare, depose, or certify truly, or that any written testimony, declaration, deposition, or certificate by him subscribed, is true, willfully and contrary to such oath states or subscribes any material matter which he does not believe to be true, or

(2) in any declaration, certificate, verification, or statement under penalty of perjury as permitted under section 1746 of title 28, United States Code, willfully subscribes as accurate any material matter which he does not believe to be true, is guilty of perjury and shall, except as otherwise expressly provided by law, be fined under this title, or imprisoned not more than five years, or both. This section is applicable whether the statement or subscription is made within or without the United States.”

Let's discuss federal perjury laws in more detail and discuss possible defenses if you are charged with this crime.

What are the Federal Perjury Laws? 

Let's begin by giving an overview of the three federal statutes that primarily pertain to perjury.

18 U.S.C. 1621 - Perjury Generally

This statute criminalizes false statements made under oath in official proceedings. It requires prosecutors to provide proof of an intentional lie about a material matter.

18 U.S.C. 1622 - Subornation of Perjury

This statute makes it illegal to induce another person to commit perjury. It requires evidence that the defendant knew the testimony was false and that the false testimony was indeed given. 

This law effectively says that if you induce someone else to perjure themselves, you are subject to the same penalty as if you had committed the perjury.

Section 1622 says, “Whoever procures another to commit any perjury is guilty of subornation of perjury and shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

18 U.S.C. 1623 - False Declarations Before Grand Jury or Court

This statute pertains to false statements made under oath in a federal court or grand jury proceeding. Unlike 1621, this does not require the statement to be material, merely that it was false.

Section 1623 says, “(a) Whoever under oath (or in any declaration, certificate, verification, or statement under penalty of perjury as permitted under section 1746 of title 28, United States Code) in any proceeding before or ancillary to any court or grand jury of the United States knowingly makes any false material declaration or makes or uses any other information, including any book, paper, document, record, recording, or other material, knowing the same to contain any false material declaration, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

What are the Elements of the Crime?

For a prosecutor to convict you of perjury, they must prove several elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The Statement Was Made Under Oath: You must have been legally obligated to speak the truth. In other words, it's not a crime to lie; the lie must have been committed after swearing under oath to tell the truth.
  • Materiality: The false statement must be material, meaning it could affect the outcome of the proceeding.
  • Willfulness: You must have knowingly made a false statement, not merely been mistaken or forgetful.
  • Falsity: The statement must be demonstrably false.

What are the Penalties and Consequences of Perjury?

The penalties for all types of perjury under U.S.C. 1621-1623 are the same. If you are convicted of federal perjury, you could face:

  • Fines of up to $250,000,
  • Up to five years in federal prison or
  • Both fines and prison time.

Beyond these legal penalties, a perjury conviction carries significant personal and professional consequences. Convicted individuals may lose their right to hold public office, vote, or own firearms.

What are the Legal Defenses Against Perjury Charges?

Facing perjury charges can be daunting, but an experienced federal criminal defense attorney can employ several defenses to challenge the prosecution's case. Some of the more common legal defenses are discussed below.

Lack of Intent

Since perjury requires intent to deceive, demonstrating a lack of intent can be a powerful defense. For this reason, one of the most common defenses is to argue that the accused did not intentionally lie but was confused, mistaken, or misunderstood the question—or that the statement was, in fact, true to the best of the defendant's knowledge.

Statement Was Not Material

A defense attorney might argue that the alleged false statement was not material to the proceeding and, therefore, does not meet the legal criteria for perjury. If the statement could not have influenced the case's outcome, it may not constitute perjury.


Under 18 U.S.C. 1623, if the accused recants their false statement during the same proceeding and before it has substantially affected the proceeding, this act can serve as a defense. However, this does not apply if the false statement has already substantially affected the proceeding or it has become manifest that the falsity has been or will be exposed.

Constitutional Protections

Constitutional defenses such as the Fifth Amendment's protection against self-incrimination may sometimes be relevant. If an individual was not properly informed of their rights or was coerced into making a false statement, these circumstances might form the basis of a defense against perjury charges.

Contact our federal criminal defense law firm for more information. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, California.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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