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Penal Code 118 PC - Perjury Law in California

California Penal Code 118 PC defines felony perjury as a deliberate act of giving false testimony under oath. This is a grave offense, not to be taken lightly, as it carries the weight of a $10,000 fine and a potential four-year sentence in state prison upon conviction. However, judges will typically impose felony probation, underscoring the seriousness of the crime.

The very bedrock of the criminal justice system is the truthfulness of statements or testimony in court. This fundamental principle is precisely why making false statements under oath or perjury is considered a felony in California, a fact that cannot be overstated.

Penal Code 118 PC - Perjury Law in California
Penal Code 118 PC perjury means deliberately giving false testimony while under oath.

Perjury is a serious offense in California. It occurs when someone intentionally provides false testimony under oath. However, it's important to note that these false statements must be made willfully, meaning the person knew they were lying.

PC 118 says, "(a) Every person who, having taken an oath that they will testify, declare, depose, or certify truly before any competent tribunal, officer, or person, in any of the cases in which the oath may by law of the State of California be administered, willfully and contrary to the oath, states as true any material matter which he or she knows to be false, and every person who testifies, declares, deposes, or certifies under penalty of perjury in any of the cases in which the testimony, declarations, depositions, or certification is permitted by law of the State of California under penalty of perjury and willfully states as true any material matter which they know to be false, is guilty of perjury.

This subdivision applies whether the statement, testimony, declaration, deposition, or certification is made or subscribed within or without the State of California.

(b) No person shall be convicted of perjury where proof of falsity rests solely upon contradiction by testimony of a single person other than the defendant. Proof of falsity may be established by direct or indirect evidence."

Related California Penal Code 127 PC, subornation of perjury, says, "Every person who willfully procures another person to commit perjury is guilty of subornation of perjury, and is punishable in the same manner as he would be if personally guilty of the perjury so procured."

To convict you of perjury, the DA must prove that your statement was false and that you deliberately lied under oath. Some defense strategies are available if you are accused of PC 188 perjury.

What is the Definition of Perjury?

Perjury in California is not only about lying; it's deliberately making false statements after taking an oath to testify truthfully.

In other words, statements must be made willfully with knowledge of their falsity to qualify as perjury. Further, they must also involve circumstances where one takes an oath to tell the truth. Perjury can potentially undermine the core principles of justice and due process.

Perjury in Court

Notably, an oath is described as an affirmation or any other lawful method to affirm the truth of a statement.

In the context of PC 118 perjury, someone commits an act willfully when it's done on purpose. Willfully also requires that someone willfully deliver a statement to another person verbally or in writing.

A statement is "material" if it was used to affect the outcome of a proceeding or could influence the outcome. Notably, it is not required that a statement actually influence a proceeding.

Someone is only guilty of perjury if they intend to make a false statement. They are not guilty of perjury if they make a false statement with a good-faith belief that it is true.

What Factors Must Be Proven for a Perjury Conviction?

To successfully prosecute someone for perjury, the district attorney must prove all the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, such as the following:

  • The defendant took an oath to testify truthfully, under penalty of perjury, which ensures they understood the obligation to provide accurate information.
  • The defendant willfully stated information they knew at the time to be false.
  • The defendant knew they made the statement under oath.
  • There was an intent to testify falsely when making the false statement.
  • The false statement must be "material," meaning it can influence the outcome of the proceeding or decision-making process. Notably, lying about something that does not directly affect the case is not considered perjury.

When Can You Be Charged with PC 118 Perjury?

You could face charges for violating perjury laws when you provide information in any of the following circumstances:

  • Providing testimony in court.
  • When you are being deposed.
  • In a signed affidavit, declaration, or certificate.
  • In a DL 44 driver's license application at the DMV.

California's criminal statute of limitations (SOL) for filing perjury charges is three years from when the alleged perjury occurred. Suppose the SOL has expired. In that case, the district attorney cannot prosecute you.

What are Related Crimes?

Several California crimes are related to Penal Code 118 PC perjury, such as the following:

  • Penal Code 470 PC - Forgery. This crime occurs when someone falsifies a signature or fraudulently alters certain documents.
  • Penal Code 115 PC - Filing a false document. This crime occurs when someone knowingly files, registers, or records a false or forged document with a government office in the state.
  • Penal Code 127 PC - Subornation of perjury. This crime occurs when someone willfully persuades another person to commit perjury.

What Are the PC 118 Defenses?

A California criminal defense lawyer can use several strategies to challenge Penal Code 118 PC perjury charges, such as casting reasonable doubt on one or more of the required elements of the crime. Some of the common legal defenses include the following:

  • No intent to deceive. Perhaps we can present evidence that your false statement was made inadvertently or by mistake, meaning that you had no intent to deceive or mislead when the statement was made. Under perjury laws, you are only guilty if you intend to make a false statement. It's not considered perjury if you have a good faith belief that it is true.
  • Lack of willful intent. Perhaps we can argue that the false statement was not made willfully. Suppose we can demonstrate that you believed the statement was accurate when it was made. Maybe the statement was made mistakenly, inadvertently, or due to confusion.
  • The false statement was not material. Perhaps we can argue that it was irrelevant to the outcome of the proceeding or decision-making process. Maybe the statement does not meet the legal definition of perjury.
  • No knowledge of being under oath. Depending on the case details, we might be able to argue that you did not understand the significance of the oath or were not adequately informed of your obligations under oath.

Contact our California criminal defense law firm for more information. Cron, Israels & Stark has offices in Los Angeles, CA.

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