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What is a False Testimony?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated Feb 16, 2024
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A false testimony, also known as perjury, refers to a testimony given under oath that is not true or not entirely true. This is a criminal offense that is punishable with jail time or severe fines if convicted. False testimony does not include false information that is not directly related to the outcome of the case. For example, lying about one’s marital status would not be considered perjury unless the witness’s marital status had a direct correlation with the case itself.

Before any witness is placed on a stand or invited to give a written testimony, he or she must swear an oath to answer all questions truthfully. Failure to do so could result in inaccurate trial results, which can lead to false imprisonment for defendants or lack of justice for victims of crimes. For instance, if one lies under oath about the location of a defendant in a murder trial, thus giving him a false alibi, then he may be found innocent even if he is guilty. This allows a murderer to go free while leaving the victim’s family with little closure.

False testimony also may be used to describe a situation when one knowingly lies on a written statement aside from a formal court testimony. This includes things like tax returns, which are protected by an “under penalty of perjury” agreement in some nations. The person doing the return can be convicted of false testimony if he or she knowingly lies when filling out the forms.

The rate of false testimony convictions are rare in most countries. One reason for this is that it is hard to prove that someone is lying. For instance, if someone claims that he did not see a defendant at the scene of a crime; aside from video tape with both individuals recorded in the same place at the same time, proving the witness a liar would be near impossible. Even with a video, it is hard to prove that one person noticed the other. Both people would have to be speaking to one another or interacting within the same group, presenting an obvious connection between the two.

A conviction of false testimony can result in prison time in most countries. In the United States and many European nations like the UK, perjury is considered a felony offense and warrants anywhere from 5-7 years in prison. In some other countries, such as France and Germany, witnesses are not permitted to speak under oath and therefore are not able to commit legal perjury.

As with any crime, false testimony must be proven to have been premeditated. Since human error is common and often accidental, one cannot be convicted of perjury if misinformation is given unknowingly due to personal perception or distorted memory. This is another factor in the low instance of perjury convictions.

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Discussion Comments
By anon129437 — On Nov 23, 2010

I am outraged at how people on Judy Judy, Judge Joe Brown, Alex and all of the other court television shows all prove that plaintiffs and defendants lie! What is Burt's role if everyone is just allowed to blatantly lie? I want everyone to speak up! The U.S. law states that it is a felony to lie!

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