Perjury is a serious crime. It’s covered under California Penal Code 118 PC and is described as deliberately giving false information while under oath. Perjury usually comes up in the news when someone lies while giving testimony during court proceedings; however, there are several situations in which an individual is subject to California’s perjury law, including: when being deposed, in a signed affidavit, in a signed declaration or certificate, and on a DL 44 drivers license application at the DMV.
When a person is accused of committing perjury, there are four separate facts that a prosecutor must be able to prove.
The Statement was Willful or Deliberate
When a person makes a verbal or written statement that is then conveyed to another person that is intended to be taken as true, then the statement is considered to be willful and deliberate. Conveyance of the verbal or written statement from one person to another is required for this element of the crime to be true. It isn’t considered perjury if someone says or writes something to themselves that contains a false statement.
You Must Know that the Statement is False
Stating something that is false doesn’t necessarily constitute lying if the person making the statement believes it to be true. People mistake facts all the time, and making an honest mistake when you’re under oath isn’t a crime. For example, if a person gives testimony in court that they saw a defendant wearing all black clothing during the commission of a crime, when the defendant was actually wearing dark blue clothing, the person on the stand likely won’t be charged with perjury because they were unaware that the person’s clothing was different from what they thought.
You Must be Under Oath at the Time the Statement is Made
If you’re not under oath, or signing paperwork that falls under PC 118 (such as a DL 44 application at the DMV), then you can’t be charged with perjury. The law explicitly states that an individual must deliberately give false information while under oath. No oath, no perjury.
The Statement was Related to Material Fact
Not every false statement made under oath necessarily qualifies one to be charged with perjury. To be eligible for charges, one must make a false statement under oath pertaining to a “material fact.” A “material fact” is a fact that has great importance or consequence. For a statement of fact to be considered material, it must satisfy one of two criteria.
The statement must be used to affect the outcome of the proceeding or
The statement has the probability of affecting the outcome of the proceeding
It’s important to note that the statement doesn’t have to actually affect the proceeding, it just has to be made with the intention of affecting it or has to have the probably of affecting it.
Perjury is a felony in California, and carries the possible penalties of felony probation with up to one year in county jail or two, three, or four years in county jail. Judges have a great deal of leeway when it comes to sentencing someone for perjury, and will take into account the defendant’s prior criminal history as well as what effect, if any, the perjury had.