“Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”
Chances are, you’ve probably heard that phrase before, whether on TV or perhaps during your own experiences in a courtroom. In the State of Texas, this oath is slightly different, reading, ““Do you solemnly swear or affirm that the testimony that you are about to give in the case now on trial is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (so help you God)?”
The words may vary from state to state or even person to person depending on things like religious beliefs, but they all have the same intent. They comprise the oath taken by witnesses before giving sworn testimony about a case during a trial, and are meant to impress the duty of truthful testimony on the witness’ conscience.
These words are not a simple formality. In fact, there is very real weight behind this oath, and serious consequences for those who break it.
In a court of law, if a person swears an oath or affirmation to tell the truth and intentionally breaks it either by directly lying or omitting facts, he or she is guilty of the crime known as perjury.
The severity of this crime can vary by state and circumstance. For example, in Texas a perjury charge can be a Class A misdemeanor if the witness makes a false statement with intent to deceive, or swears to the truth of a previously falsified statement. The crime is considered aggravated perjury if the false statement is material to the case, meaning it could have affected the course or outcome of the legal proceedings. Aggravated perjury is a third degree felony.
In Federal Court, a witness can also be charged with perjury for intentionally forswearing an official oath to tell the truth, but only if the information is material to the case. This is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
One may perjure himself or herself by the spoken word or in writing, and even jurors who break their oath may be charged with perjury under some circumstances. However, a common misconception about perjury is that one is criminally liable as soon as a falsehood is spoken under oath. In fact, the criminal liability only pertains when the witness actually asserts the truth of the statement.
Additionally, even if you are not a witness in a court case, you could be charged with perjury if you made false statements in a situation where you agreed to be honest “under penalty of perjury.” The most common example of this is your income tax return. Lying on your tax returns could be punishable by perjury with penalties up to three years in prison.
Perjury is a very severe crime with very severe consequences. If you’ve been charged with perjury, or subornation of perjury which refers to when one person compels another to perjure themselves, please contact the Whalen Law Office today for an aggressive and dedicated defense.