Under Colorado law, perjury is defined as fabricating or stating false information while under oath. This can occur in a legal proceeding, a written document, or any time a person takes an oath to tell the truth. Perjury offenses range from a Class 4 Felony to a Petty Offense, depending on the circumstances of the act.
The text of Section 18-8-502 states that:
(1) A person commits perjury in the first degree if in any official proceeding he knowingly makes a materially false statement, which he does not believe to be true, under an oath required or authorized by law. (2) Knowledge of the materiality of the statement is not an element of this crime, and the defendant’s mistaken belief that his statement was not material is not a defense, although it may be considered by the court in imposing sentence. (3) Perjury in the first degree is a class 4 felony.
In this article, our Denver Colorado criminal defense attorneys will answer the following questions:
- 1. How is Perjury Defined Under Colorado Law?
- 2. Perjury Penalties
- 3. Defenses to Perjury Charges
An individual convicted of committing perjury in the 1st degree has committed the following acts:
- he/she knowingly makes a materially false statement, which he/she does not believe to be true in an official proceeding 1
An example of this would be if a witness or party in a case lies under oath. Anytime it is proven in a court of law that there was a fabrication in a person’s testimony, the person who perjured himself or herself can potentially face charges for failing to tell the truth.
Establishing this offense requires proof that you did the following:
You knowingly made a materially false statement
Colorado law defines a “materially false” statement as:
“A false assertion that affects the action, conduct, or decision of the person who receives or is intended to receive the asserted information in a manner that directly or indirectly benefits the person making the assertion.” 2
Basically, a materially false statement is inaccurate information a person gives in a court proceeding that is intended to aid them in receiving a favorable outcome.
Statements that are made falsely only constitute first-degree perjury, not statements that are misleading.
For example, let’s say a judge asks Michelle if anyone in her immediate family has been arrested. She claims her sister had been arrested on theft charges but omits the fact that she was also arrested for theft too on that same day.
Even though this explanation may be misleading, it is still true (even though it implies only her sister was arrested). Michelle can not be prosecuted for this crime despite refusing to admit her own arrested because what she stated was essentially true.
You were under oath to tell the truth
Providing false information during a testimony, affidavit, certificate, declaration or any government document is the most obvious way to be deemed liable in a perjury case.
For example, let’s say Brock is being cross-examined on the witness stand for embezzling money from his employer. An opposing counsel asks him if he’s attempted to or successfully stolen money before while working on other jobs. Brock nervously denies that he’s stolen money before under oath, even though he was fired from his last job for suspicions of embezzlement.
In this case, if news broke regarding his reasons for being fired on his other job, he could possibly be convicted for perjury.
Once a defendant is ordered to the witness stand, their fifth amendment right is waived. So it may be beneficial to opt out of testifying if one may feel they will lie under oath.
A person is guilty of perjury in the 2nd degree if they do the following under Colorado law:
- he/she makes a materially false statement with an intent to mislead a public servant in the performance of his duty, which he does not believe to be true, under an oath required or authorized by law. 3
For example, let’s say a man lies about his annual income on an unemployment application, after signing his name below an oath of some kind. Usually, on federal documents, there is a statement along the lines of “I swear all the information on this form is correct,” or other variations. If a person signs anyways knowing they are lying, this action constitutes as perjury in the 2nd degree, and could ultimately lead to a conviction if proven.
A person commits this offense when:
- he/she intentionally makes a materially false statement, other than those demonstrated in the first and second-degree perjury laws, which he/she does not believe to be true, under an oath required or authorized by law. 4
The penalties for committing perjury in Colorado can range from a few months in jail to years in prison and substantial fines. The penalties one could face depend on the type of perjury conviction.
Under the Colorado Revised Statutes, perjury in the first degree is a class 4 felony, which is punishable by 2-6 years in prison and a fine ranging from $2,000-$500,000. 5
This offense is classified as a class 2 misdemeanor. It is punishable by up to 120 days in county jail and/or a fine of up to $750. 6
A person facing false swearing charges is guilty of a petty offense. This is punishable by a potential sentence of up to 10 days in jail and/or a fine that may not exceed $300. 7
There are several defenses attorneys have been successful in applying to perjury cases. Some of the most common are:
- You made a mistake or there was a misunderstanding
- You immediately took back the lie
- You were falsely accused or set up
- There is not enough evidence to prove you committed this offense
Call us for help…
See our related article, What is Colorado’s statute of limitations for perjury?
- Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-8-502(1); People v. Scott, 785 P.2d 931 (Colo. 1990); People v. Drake, 841 P.2d 364 (Colo. App. 1992); People v. Ellsworth, 15 P.3d 1111 (Colo. App. 2000).
- Colo. Rev. stat. § 18-5-901(4)(b)
- Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-8-503(1); People v. Chaussee, 847 P.2d 156 (Colo. App. 1992).
- Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-8-504(1)
- Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-8-502(3)
- Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-8-503(2). Prior to March 1, 2022, 2nd-degree perjury was a class 1 misdemeanor carrying 6 to 18 months in county jail and/or a fine ranging from $500 to $5,000. SB21-271.
- Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-8-504(2). Prior to March 1, 2022, false swearing was a class 1 petty offense carrying 6 months in jail and/or $500 in fines. SB21-271.