ARS § 13-2702 is the Arizona statute defining the perjury crime. People commit this offense when they make either a false sworn statement or a false unsworn declaration regarding a material issue and do so while believing the statement/declaration is false. A violation of this law is a Class 4 felony punishable by almost four years in state prison.
The language of ARS § 13-2702 states that:
A person commits perjury by making either:
A false sworn statement in regard to a material issue, believing it to be false.
A false unsworn declaration, certificate, verification or statement in regard to a material issue that the person subscribes as true under penalty of perjury, believing it to be false.
- lying about the identification of a suspect in an Arizona grand jury proceeding.
- someone signing an unsworn declaration attesting to witnessing a person sign a will when he/she really did not see anything.
- providing a false description of an injury in a deposition.
People have the right to challenge a perjury charge with a legal defense. A few common defenses include defendants showing that:
- they did not believe a statement was false,
- they did not give a false statement under oath or penalty of perjury, and/or
- the false statement was not in regard to a material issue.
In this article, our criminal defense attorneys will discuss what the law is under this statute, defenses available if charged, the penalties for a conviction, and related crimes.
1. How does Arizona law define “perjury”?
People commit the crime of perjury when they make either:
- a false sworn statement regarding a material issue, believing the statement to be false, or
- a false unsworn declaration, certificate, or statement regarding a material issue while under penalty of perjury, believing it to be false.i
The function of this criminal code section is to protect the criminal justice system from the debilitating effects of false testimony, falsifications, and false swearing.ii
For this statute, a “material issue” could affect the course or outcome of any official proceeding or transaction.iii
Further, a “sworn statement” means any statement knowingly given under oath or affirmation attesting to the truth of what is stated, including a notarized statement.iv
In some situations, a person cannot provide a sworn written statement. In this situation, Arizona law allows the person to make an unsworn declaration under penalty of perjury. The declaration is usually in the following form:
“I declare [or certify, verify or state] under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct… [description of what the person did, saw, observed, etc.]”v
Note that subornation of perjury is a distinct crime from perjury. Subornation of perjury is the offense of persuading or permitting a person to commit perjury.
2. Are there defenses to ARS 13-2702?
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several legal strategies in state court to help defendants challenge charges of perjury and related offenses. Three common ones include lawyers showing that:
- the accused did not believe his/her statement was false.
- the defendant did not make a statement under oath or under penalty of perjury.
- the statement was not regarding a material issue.
2.1 No belief that a statement was false
Recall that people are only guilty of perjury if they make a false statement/declaration while believing it is false. A defense, then, is for accused people to show that they did not believe their statement was false. Perhaps, for example, a witness believed to be telling the truth about something and was wrong with his/her facts.
2.2 No statement under oath or under penalty of perjury
Also recall that people are only guilty under this statute if they made a statement/declaration either:
- under oath, or
- under penalty of perjury.
Therefore, it is a defense is for defendants to show that they did not make a statement/declaration under either of these. Perhaps, for example, a person made a false statement to law enforcement while not subject to an oath or penalty.
2.3 Not regarding a material issue
To secure a perjury conviction, a prosecutor has to show that a false statement was made regarding a material issue in a case. This means it is always a defense for defendants to show that their statement did not impact a material issue.
Consider, for example, a person testifying in a murder trial on whether a defendant killed someone intentionally. The person is not guilty of perjury if he/she purposely gives his/her false date of birth. The false date is not material as to whether the defendant intentionally killed the victim.
3. What are the penalties?
A violation of Arizona’s perjury statute is a Class 4 felony.vi The crime is punishable by custody in state prison for up to three years and nine months.
If the crime gets classified as a dangerous offense, then defendants can face up to eight years in prison.
4. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to perjury. These are:
- forgery – ARS 13-2002,
- obstruction of justice – ARS 13-2409, and/or
- interfering with judicial proceedings – ARS 13-2810.
4.1 Forgery – ARS 13-2002
Per ARS 13-2002, forgery is the crime where people, with the intent to defraud, either:
- falsely make, complete, or alter a written instrument,
- possess a forged instrument, or
- offer a forged instrument.
People do not have to act intending to defraud to commit perjury. They do, though, have to make a false statement while believing it to be true.
4.2 Obstruction of justice – ARS 13-2409
Per ARS 13-2409, obstruction of justice is the offense where people attempt to disrupt, delay, or prevent the communication of information regarding the commission of a crime to a police officer or prosecutor.
Perjury is treated as a more severe offense in Arizona than obstruction of justice. A violation of ARS 13-2409 is a Class 5 felony punishable by up to two-and-a-half years in prison.
4.3 Interfering with judicial proceedings – ARS 13-2810
Under ARS 13-2810, interfering with judicial proceedings is the offense where people commit some act or fail to commit an act concerning a court proceeding. For example, a person can violate the law by:
- engaging in disorderly, disrespectful, or insolent behavior during the session of a court,
- disobeying or resisting the lawful order, process, or other mandate of a court, or
- refusing to be sworn or affirmed as a witness in any court proceeding.
Unlike perjury, the commission of this crime is a misdemeanor offense. In particular, it is a Class 1 misdemeanor.