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False testimony (Penalty of perjury) law in California in 2024

Perjury is a crime under California Penal Code 118 PC. As its name indicates, it consists of giving false testimony under oath before a qualified court or official.

California law punishes this crime with prison terms, probation and severe fines. To better understand what exactly perjury is, here are several examples.

Although it is true that the crime of perjury is very serious, there are few cases in which a trial for this crime reaches the end. Like libel or slander, they are crimes that are difficult to prove.

Perjury definition

The law defines perjury as the act of:

“Any person who, in any affidavit taken before any person authorized to administer oaths, swears, affirms, declares, deposes, or certifies that he will testify, declare, depose, or certify before any competent tribunal, officer, or person, in any case then pending or thereafter to be instituted, in any particular manner, or to any particular fact, and in such affidavit willfully and contrary to such oath states as true any material matter which he knows to be false, is guilty of perjury.”

California Penal Code 118 PC

Examples of perjury

The following are some examples of this crime:

  • Lying when questioned about committing a crime of which he had full knowledge. For example, witnessing a homicide and responding on the stand or in an interrogation with the prosecutor who was not present at the scene.
  • Being summoned by a court to give a statement about a robbery and misrepresenting the facts. Either accusing an innocent or omitting actions relevant to the case.
  • Sign an affidavit in which false information is offered on a particular matter. For example, on the tax return.
  • Authenticate as a notary a document under oath, knowing that it is false.
perjury laws in los angeles

What elements constitute the crime and penalty of perjury in California?

To prove perjury the prosecutor must prove that the defendant:

  • Swore to testify and tell the truth under penalty of perjury,
  • Deliberately declared their testimony to be true despite knowing it to be false.
  • Refused to provide details of a fact, deliberately omitted them, or presented inconsistent testimony.
  • The information provided was of a “material” nature.  
  • Knew they were testifying under oath, and
  • Intended to make a false statement when they appeared in court.

It is important to specify that for the penalty of perjury in California to be constituted, the message must also be communicated. 

For example, you fill out a job or other application form under oath with false information and then change your mind and do not submit it. In that case, you will not have committed perjury. Even if someone else filed it for you.

What is a material fact?

It is necessary that the statement lead to a material fact. That is, it is of importance or generates consequences. 

The law qualifies a fact as material when:

  • It is used to influence the outcome of the procedure performed, or
  • It was likely to influence that result.

However, in a trial it is not a prerequisite that the testimony necessarily influence the judicial process. Just as it is not established that the person had to know that his statement was material.

Under what circumstances could you be charged with perjury?

A person can be prosecuted for perjury if they give false information by:

  • Testifying in court.
  • Being questioned by a competent authority.
  • A signed affidavit.
  • Any other official signed statement,
  • Applying for a driver’s license through the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) DL 44 form .
  • Signing a certificate.

What is the penalty for the crime of Perjury in California?

Perjury in the state is penalized as a felony with:

  • Imprisonment for one year in the county jail.
  • Imprisonment of two to four years in the state jail and/or
  • Maximum fine of $10,000. 

At the judge’s discretion, the court may order an alternative measure of parole. Thus, the convicted person would not have to remain in prison while serving the sentence.

examples of perjury in california

How is perjury punished in the United States?

US federal law also punishes the crime of perjury. Penalties include:

  • Imprisonment for up to five years maximum in a federal prison; and/or
  • Penalty fee.

Both penalties can be applied jointly or separately, depending on the seriousness of the crime and the circumstances.  

Possible defenses to a perjury charge penalty in California

There are several defenses that a criminal defense attorney can typically invoke in a perjury case. Here are some of them: 

  • The client made an erroneous statement without knowing that its content was false.
  • The client did not understand, confused or misunderstood the question.
  • The false or erroneous testimony was related to a matter of little legal interest and not something serious.
  • The client was not technically under oath at the time of deposition.

What are the consequences of a perjury charge for an immigrant?

  • A charge for this crime does not affect an immigration case. Although perjury is considered a crime of moral turpitude, specifically, it has no immigration consequences. 
  • Instead, other crimes of moral turpitude such as murder, manslaughter, prostitution, child and spousal abuse and incest do. As well as serious criminal offenses, including kidnapping, robbery, aggravated assault, grand theft and fraud. 
  • These crimes can lead to an alien being deported or declared inadmissible. 
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Remember that we are also specialized and certified  immigration lawyers.

Can a perjury conviction be expunged in California?

No. Unless the defendant is paroled. The expungement or cleaning of criminal records is prohibited for defendants who go to jail. 

How does a conviction affect the right to bear arms?

The law states that anyone convicted of a felony cannot possess or use a deadly weapon. So yes, those convicted of perjury lose their rights to own and carry weapons.

What does the California statute of limitations say about perjury?

Filing criminal charges for perjury has a three-year statute of limitations. It means that after this period any action that is attempted can be rejected by the judge. 

Time begins to tick from the moment the alleged case of perjury is discovered. 

What other crimes are related to perjury?

The most common are:

How does perjury affect others?

In many ways, perjury is a harm to society and a crime against justice insofar as:

  • In a trial it leads to falsifying, hiding, altering or misrepresenting the truth. It is very serious because the court (jury and judge) bases its verdicts or sentences on the testimonies and other evidence submitted under oath. 
  • False testimony in court can harm an individual or a group when the verdict depends on it.
  • In other cases where documents or testimony are submitted under oath, it can be dangerous for society. For example, lying to obtain a driver’s license, certifications, or a professional license that results in:
    • A driver/pilot unfit to drive or fly an aircraft. 
    • An unqualified doctor who performs surgical interventions. 
    • An untrained civil engineer directing a construction site.

Why is it important to speak with a criminal lawyer?

Any criminal offense requires a qualified defense and this is only possible by hiring an expert criminal lawyer. 

A criminal attorney can:

  • Increase the chances that the charges will be dismissed by the court and you will be acquitted of the crime charged. 
  • Find the most appropriate defense strategy for your case.
  • Negotiate with the prosecution for a reduction in charges or sentence, if it is not possible to have the charges dismissed. 
  • Explain in detail the content of the law and how it could benefit you in your case.
  • Guarantee that their rights are defended in accordance with the Constitution and the law.

If you are facing a penalty of perjury in California and need the best Los Angeles criminal law firm to represent and defend you, we are here. We defend Hispanic and other nationality clients with a high degree of effectiveness and success. If after the initial consultation we decide to take your case, we will accompany you throughout the process.


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