Perjury – Lying At Trial: What You Need To Know

Gavel depicting perjury

What will happen to you if you lie in court? It’s a good question. If you’ve ever been a witness in a trial or seen one in action, you know that you have to swear you are telling the truth.

You also may be asked to sign a sworn statement declaring that what you have testified to is the truth under penalty of perjury.

Perjury means lying in court. It can be prosecuted as a crime and have consequences that last for the rest of your life if it can be proved you lied.

The reason for this is that our criminal justice system is structured around the idea that the truth about a case is being presented. If you do not tell the truth, it undermines the justice system. Therefore, it is illegal not to tell the truth.

How Do You Know When You Are Committing Perjury?

Perjury used to be defined as lying in the witness stand in a court of law. It does mean that, however, it also means more. If you lie during any judicial proceedings, lawsuits or in a sworn statement, you are committing perjury.

It is an intentional lie or withholding of information to try to change the outcome of a case. If you cause someone else to lie, you are also committing perjury.

Sworn Statements

Any sworn statement you are giving, whether written or verbal, must be made under oath. That means you are promising that what you say is true and that you know you will face charges if you do not tell the truth.

If you make a statement under oath that is a lie – intending to mislead the court – and your statements can be proved to be inconsistent, the prosecution has the right to accuse you of perjury.

In addition, the prosecution doesn’t have to identify which statement is false. The prosecution just that the statements you have made don’t match up.

What If I Lie Without Meaning To?

If you unintentionally make a false statement, it is not perjury. You may say something you mistakenly believe is correct or you may be confused about the incident in question and not remember exact details. This does not mean you have committed perjury.

Penalties for Lying at Trial

According to Michigan State law 750.422:

“Perjury committed in courts—Any person who, being lawfully required to depose the truth in any proceeding in a court of justice, shall commit perjury shall be guilty of a felony, punishable, if such perjury was committed on the trial of an indictment for a capital crime, by imprisonment in the state prison for life, or any term of years, and if committed in any other case, by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than 15 years.”


In order to defend yourself from charges of perjury, you need a criminal defense lawyer to represent you. You may correct or recant your statement. However, it still may result in prosecution.

An experienced lawyer will help you navigate what can become a complex legal issue. It may not be as simple as correcting yourself or apologizing to the court. If you are facing charges of perjury, call today.

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