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California Perjury Laws

Overview of California Perjury Laws

Perjury, a crime against justice, criminalizes false statements made while under oath. A prosecutor might charge a defendant with perjury for false statements made during a legal investigation or court proceedings such as a deposition or trial. 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 to Perjury Charges

  • 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. 

California Perjury Law: Statute

California Penal Code Sections 118-131

Note: State laws are constantly changing -- please contact a California criminal defense attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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