Federal Laws for "Perjury" (18 U.S.C. § 1621)
Explained by Nevada Criminal Defense Attorneys

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Lying under oath in federal court or other venues carries severe penalties. The judge may impose a hefty fine as well as several years in prison. But an experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to negotiate or litigate a favorable resolution where the case gets thrown out and the defendant's record remains clean.

Definition

The legal definition of "perjury" in federal law is when someone intentionally says something under oath that he/she does not believe to be true. The most common example is lying on the witness stand in Nevada Federal Court. But perjury can be committed in any context where the U.S. government authorizes an oath to be administered such as:

  • making a written declaration, verification, certification, or statement under penalty of perjury; or
  • testifying before a federal tribunal or officer such as a grand jury or a deposition1

Note that perjury in federal law includes not just oral statements but also written statements that the person knows to be false. Also note that a person may still be prosecuted for perjury even if he/she makes the false statements under oath while outside the United States.

Intent requirement

Misstating facts under oath is considered perjury under federal law only if the person knows what he/she is saying is untrue. Beatty NV criminal defense attorney Michael Becker gives an example:

Example: John is a witness in a federal murder trial. Unbeknownst to John, his watch was slow when he witnessed the murder. John testifies that he heard the gunshot go off at six p.m. even though surveillance video showed it was seven p.m. Since John was simply mistaken as to the time and not trying to deceive anyone with false testimony, the U.S. Marshals Service should not arrest him for perjury.

Note that it may be possible for someone who commits perjury in a federal court or grand jury proceeding to escape prosecution if he/she rectifies the situation quickly enough. As long the person admits to his/her lie before the lie could substantially affect the outcome of the proceeding, then perjury charges should not be sustained.

Subornation of perjury

Subornation of perjury is when someone bribes or induces someone else to lie under oath. Federal law considers subornation of perjury the same as perjury itself, as Reno NV criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse explains:

Example: Jim is a witness in a federal domestic violence case where he saw Max hit his spouse. Max's parents pay Jim to lie on the witness stand by saying that he saw the spouse hit max first. If the parents caught, the police may arrest not only Jim for perjury . . . they can also arrest the parents for perjury for having suborned Jim into lying.

Also note in this example that the parents and Jim would face additional charges for the federal crime of witness bribery.

Federal vs. Nevada Perjury Law

Nevada perjury law prohibits the exact same behavior that federal perjury law does. The main distinction is that Nevada state law carries a shorter maximum prison sentence. Read more about the Nevada perjury laws

Defenses

The appropriate defense strategy to combat federal allegations of perjury in Nevada depends on the specific facts of the case. Below are the three most common defenses a criminal defense attorney may use:

  • No intent to lie. Federal perjury law is not meant to punish people who honestly believe they were telling the truth under oath . . . even if what they say turns out to be false. As long as the U.S. Attorney's Office cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant deliberately lied under oath, then the defendant should not be held liable for perjury.
  • Procedural defenses. Perhaps the defendant never actually made an oath. Or perhaps the circumstances did not require the defendant to take an oath. If the defense attorney can prove arguments such as these, the charges may be dropped on purely procedural grounds . . . even if the defendant may have told an untruth.
  • Immaterial matter. Anyone making statements under oath should always tell the complete truth. But if a defense attorney can show that the defendant lied about a matter that was insignificant to the proceeding and that could not possibly affect the outcome, the prosecution should not press perjury charges for it.

Note that a person may still be convicted of perjury even if his/her attorney instructed them to lie or if the oath was not administered correctly.

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Penalties

The punishment for committing the federal crime of perjury is a fine and/or up to five (5) years in federal prison. And since there are currently no federal prisons in Nevada, defendants may be transported to an out-of-state prison or incarcerated in a U.S. Nevada State Prison

Note that all federal criminal cases are litigated in only one of two courthouses in Nevada: The Bruce R. Thompson Federal Building in Reno, or the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse in Las Vegas.

Perjury Penalties Under Nevada State Law

In Nevada state court, perjury is punished as a category D felony in Nevada carrying a sentence of one to four (1 - 4) years in prison and maybe up to $5,000 in fines. If a defendant is convicted of perjury in both state and federal courts, then he/she will serve the two sentences consecutively (one after the other).

Accused of a crime? Call us . . . .

If you are facing federal charges of perjury in Nevada, do not hesitate to contact our Nevada federal criminal defense lawyers at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673). Our first tactic will be to try to get the charge dismissed outright or possibly reduced to a less severe charge. And we are always prepared to take the case to trial and fight zealously for your innocence.

To read about California Perjury Law-Penal Code 118 PC, go to our article on California Perjury Law-Penal Code 118 PC.


Legal References:

118 U.S.C. § 1621 Perjury Generally

Whoever—

(1) having taken an oath before a competent tribunal, officer, or person, in any case in which a law of the United States authorizes an oath to be administered, that he will testify, declare, depose, or certify truly, or that any written testimony, declaration, deposition, or certificate by him subscribed, is true, willfully and contrary to such oath states or subscribes any material matter which he does not believe to be true; or

(2) in any declaration, certificate, verification, or statement under penalty of perjury as permitted under section 1746 of title 28, United States Code, willfully subscribes as true any material matter which he does not believe to be true; is guilty of perjury and shall, except as otherwise expressly provided by law, be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both. This section is applicable whether the statement or subscription is made within or without the United States.

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