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Focus on the Law: Perjury

By Sharon Frankenberg,
Attorney at Law

Perjury is a crime categorized in Tennessee as an offense against the administration of government.  Legal proceedings rely on the statements of witnesses, both verbal and written.  The foundation of our legal system depends on trust and credibility.  Those who abuse that trust and get caught may find themselves charged with perjury.

A person commits the crime of perjury if he or she, with intent to deceive:

(1) makes a false statement under oath;

(2) makes a statement, under oath, that confirms the truth of a false statement previously made and the statement is required or authorized by law to be made under oath;

(3) makes a false statement, not under oath, but on an official document required or authorized by law to be made under oath and stating on its face that a false statement is subject to the penalties of perjury; or

(4) makes a false statement, not under oath, but in a declaration stating on its face that it is made under penalty of perjury.

Perjury is a Class A misdemeanor.  If that perjury is committed on an application for a handgun carry permit it is a Class E felony.  Likewise if perjury is committed on a sexual offender or violent sexual offender registration form it is a Class E felony.   A Class A misdemeanor is punishable by not more than 11 months 29 days in jail and/or a fine not to exceed $2,500.  A Class E felony is punishable by not less than one year nor more than six years in prison and a fine not to exceed $3,000.

Aggravated perjury is a crime where the person commits perjury as listed above but makes a material false statement during or in connection with an official proceeding.  Aggravated perjury is a Class D felony which is punishable by not less than two years nor more than 12 years in prison and a fine not to exceed $5,000.  If the person retracted his or her false statement before completion of the testimony at the official proceeding, it is a defense to aggravated perjury.

If a person, with the intent to deceive, induces another to make a false statement constituting perjury or aggravated perjury that person commits the offense of subornation of perjury.  Subornation of perjury is a Class A misdemeanor and subornation of aggravated perjury is a Class E felony.  Two or more people may be jointly prosecuted for subornation of perjury.

Federal law also punishes the crime of perjury.  It is defined in 18 U.S.C.A. Sect. 1621 as making a false statement made under oath or equivalent affirmation during a judicial proceeding in which the statement is material to the proceeding and where the witness must have the intention to deceive.  Under U.S.C.A. Sect. 1623, a person may be charged with perjury if he or she knows that his or her testimony is false including if he or she uses information including books, papers, recordings or other materials known to contain a false material declaration.  The penalty for perjury under federal law includes fines and up to five years in prison.  You should consult an attorney for assistance and advice with your individual situation.

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