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California Perjury Laws

Normally the danger of prosecution has passed by the time you get to the stand, but there are circumstances in which you can find yourself facing a new criminal charge right in the middle of your case, or even while testifying at another person's trial. Perjury, a crime against justice, criminalizes false statements made while under oath. A false statement provided in a context for which your testimony could be subpoenaed; such as a sworn statement, affidavit, deposition, or trail testimony, may result in a perjury charge.

Overview of California Perjury Laws

The following chart provides an overview of the elements, defenses, and penalties of California perjury laws:

Statutes California Penal Code Sections 118-131
Elements

For a conviction, California perjury law requires the following elements:

  • Oath: The defendant must have taken an oath before a tribunal, court, or an authorized officer to speak, depose, or testify truthfully. The oath must have occurred in a court case or proceedings during which such an oath is permitted. The oath is an affirmation that the individual understands the duty to tell the truth while under oath.
  • Intent to make a false statement: The prosecutor must show that the defendant knew the falsity of the statement and presented the statement as true.
  • False statement: The defendant must have presented a false statement as the truth. In some cases, the defendant's silence or implied statement might also qualify as a false statement.
  • Materiality of the statement: California state laws also consider the materiality of the defendant's false statement. Materiality refers to the potential effect of the statement on the outcome of the proceedings.
Defenses
  • Belief that the sworn statement was true;
  • Genuine impairment of memory;
  • Perjury trap: the prosecuting attorney focused on extracting false answers rather than asking questions to elicit information material to the investigation or prosecution;
  • Recantation or retraction: the defendant voluntarily acknowledged the false statement and recanted or retracted the statement.
Penalties and Sentences The punishment for a conviction varies depending on the circumstances or consequences of the perjury. A perjury conviction could result in felony sentencing of two, three, or four years. The sentence might change due to the defendant's past or current conviction record.

If the defendant willfully caused or pursued the conviction and execution of an innocent person through perjury, the defendant can receive a sentence of death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.


Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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