When you get on the witness stand, you promise or take an oath to tell the truth, and telling a lie can cost you dearly. Florida takes perjury very seriously and people convicted of lying can be fined and even sentenced to time in jail. If you have a question about how to testify, you should contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
Perjury is any false statement made under oath, whether in an official proceeding or not. An official proceeding is something like a trial, deposition, or legislative hearing. You can also commit perjury outside of official proceedings, such as on a marriage application.
To qualify as perjury, the person making the false statement must know that it is false. They can’t be merely mistaken, and they can’t really believe what they are saying. If they do, then the person has not committed perjury.
The statement also must relate to a “material” matter. In other words, a lie won’t be perjury if it was regarding a minor or side issue, such as the color of someone’s car when that has no meaning in a legal dispute. However, the defendant doesn’t have to know whether the issue is material or not.
Defenses to Perjury
Defendants have a limited number of defenses available which can help them escape a perjury charge. Perhaps the easiest defense is recantation. The defendant must acknowledge the false statement during the same legal proceeding. The false statement can’t have already affected the legal proceeding in any meaningful way—for example, someone can’t have been convicted because of your false statement. Also, you must admit to lying before someone else discovers it.
You might also be able to claim duress, meaning you were threatened or coerced into lying. Your fear must be reasonable. For example, you might need to show a credible threat that you or a loved one would be harmed if you didn’t lie.
Punishments for Perjury
Your punishment will depend on whether you made the falsehood as part of an official proceeding. If you did, you can be convicted of a third-degree felony, which carries a punishment of up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
The punishment is even more severe if you committed a felony as part of a capital proceeding: you can be convicted of a second-degree felony and face up 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
However, if you made the false statement outside of an official proceeding, then you can be convicted of a first-degree misdemeanor, which carries a punishment of up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Call a St. Petersburg Criminal Defense Attorney
Criminal trials and other legal proceedings often require that you talk about embarrassing information which you might prefer not to discuss. But lying should never be an option. If you have a question about how to testify, reach out to an experienced St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney. At Khonsari Law Group, we have extensive experience preparing our clients for testifying at trials and other legal proceedings. Call us today for a free consultation at (727) 269-5300. Alternately, you can complete our contact form.