Perjury is a crime that is taken seriously in most areas of the United States, but it can be extremely difficult to prove. Essentially, perjury is lying under oath, such as when testifying at a criminal or civil trial. Committing perjury can carry a penalty of up to $2,000 in fines and a sentence of up to five years in prison, depending on where you live.
To avoid committing perjury, you need to make sure that you always tell the truth when under oath. Of course, this is further marginalized by the instruction to tell the truth as you know it, which means that it is possible for someone to perjure themselves without knowing it. If you lie under oath, however, you can be charged with perjury in a court of law.
In journalism, it is common for professionals to verify facts from at least three credible sources, which is a good rule to follow if you want to avoid committing perjury. For example, expert witnesses often testify for the defense or the prosecution in a criminal trial. Because their testimony is material to the case, they can be charged with perjury if their facts are later proven false by other professionals. Make sure that you know what you’re talking about before you say it under oath.
Consider the Nature of the Statements
You can’t be charged with committing perjury in most cases unless your testimony is material to the matter at hand. For example, you would be in more trouble if you lied about a suspect’s alibi than if you told a jury that you ate pizza for dinner when in fact you had a hamburger and fries. If you are contemplating lying under oath, make sure that it is a fact not relevant to the case before you decide to say it.
Give Brief, Non-Descript Answers
Any prosecutor or defense attorney will tell you that testimony should be brief. Never expound upon your answers with long descriptions of what you did or where you did it or why you came to do it in the first place. It is much easier to avoid committing perjury if you keep your answers to brief statements – yes or no if appropriate. The more details you give, the more likely you’ll trip up and say something that could get you into trouble.
Ask for Clarification
If you are asked a question under oath that you don’t understand, ask for clarification. There is no reason why you should answer when you don’t understand the question, and it could cause you to commit perjury without knowing what you’re doing. The person examining you has every obligation to explain him or herself completely, and you don’t have to answer until you fully understand the question.
Don’t Tell Anyone Else
If you do decide that committing perjury is the only way to go – and I don’t recommend it – make sure you don’t tell anyone else your plans, especially your attorney. If someone knows that you are going to lie under oath and you carry through with it, that person can later be charged with subornation of perjury. No need to bring everyone else down with you if you feel you need to break the law.