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“To Tell the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth”: The Perjury Law in Pennsylvania

“I do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” These are the solemn words (or similar words to this effect) that we encounter in the halls of our venerable tribunals across our nation that comprise our judicial system. Our federal court’s rules of evidence prescribe that before testifying in a court proceeding, “a witness must give an oath or affirmation to testify truthfully.” The rules further provide that the affirmation “must be in a form designed to impress that duty on the witness’s conscience.”

Grounded in our nation’s religious and faith traditions, this ceremonial act was intended to evoke a sober contemplation of the significance and sanctity of the truth and the serious consequences flowing from any deviations from, or distortions of, the truth. But if fear of eternal consequences is an insufficient safeguard of truth, the legal ramifications of committing this offense should provide a sufficiently strong deterrent. Ostensibly, the criminal consequences of committing deception must be commensurate with a breach of this trust or oath, as the criminal justice system relies foundationally on the veracity of the testimony and evidence of the participants in these proceedings. Ostensibly, life-altering outcomes can turn upon a single sworn statement in a criminal or civil trial.

“Perjury” is defined as making false or misleading statements under oath during an official legal proceeding, including at congressional hearings or in a deposition in a civil case. The federal provision for perjury also comprehends written statements, such as affidavits submitted to a governmental agency or, even, financial affidavits for loan applications or tax filings. Persuading or inducing an individual to commit perjury, or “suborning perjury,” is also a crime punishable under law.

More specifically, the crime of perjury requires that the statement be made under oath, or equivalent affirmation. The false statement must also be a clear statement made to conceal the truth, rather than just a statement calculated to evade the truth. The person making the statement must have had the intent to mislead, that is, that they must have known that it was false when he or she was making the false statement in court. If he or she believes it to be true, perjury does not apply. Finally, the false statement must be “material” to the subject matter of the proceeding. In other words, the statement must be significant enough to affect the outcome of the proceeding. If the false statement calls into question the credibility of a witness, it may also be considered material under the perjury law.

In Pennsylvania, if the accused is found guilty of perjury, a third-degree felony, he may face a maximum sentence of seven years in jail and up to $15,000.00 in fines.

Lying under oath can be a serious crime and the defenses can be complicated. In order to maximize your chances of success at trial, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer to counsel you at every stage of your case. A Pennsylvania perjury lawyer understands the seriousness of the charge and the potential penalties you may face. Skilled advocacy on your behalf can have a significant impact on the ultimate outcome of your case.

If you are facing a perjury charge, you should speak with a qualified criminal defense attorney to determine the potential consequences regarding your pending criminal charge. Contact the criminal defense lawyers at Tanner Law Offices. Our team of skilled professionals is prepared to defend you through this challenging time and ensure your rights are fully protected. Please contact our office at 717-836-0471 to schedule a consultation to discuss your case.