By Jedidiah Mckeehan
Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-16-792 defines perjury as occurring when,
(a) A person commits an offense who, 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; or
(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.
Except for a few rare instances when perjury is a Class E felony, committing perjury is a Class A misdemeanor crime in Tennessee.
When most people think of perjury, they usually think of someone lying under oath while on the witness stand in a courtroom. While I wish I could tell you this is something that rarely happens, however, in my experience, it happens to some degree in almost every single case.
People regularly get up on the witness stand and do not come close to telling the truth. It is hard for me to believe that people, “swearing to tell the truth,” before testifying meant that they were not going to lie, but I have not found that to be the case and I do not believe that it has ever been the case. What about the innate morality of people to tell the truth? Well, that just does not exist unfortunately. It is usually the exception, rather than the norm for people to testify truthfully on the stand when that testimony is potentially detrimental to their case.
Do the judges call out people for lying on the witness stand? Not always, but sometimes they do so. Sometimes the judge will lay in to someone for “not being credible (aka lying).” Even in those circumstances, the person accused of lying by the judge is unlikely to face perjury charges. Their side may not win the case, but the judge hears so many lies during a normal day, they all start to run together.
By the way, I have never actually seen someone charged with perjury.
Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties. Visit attorney-knoxville.com for more information about this and other legal issues.