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Understanding The Crime Of Perjury In Pennsylvania

August 26, 2021

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

Recently, a grand jury decided that three former homicide detectives from Philadelphia should face criminal charges of perjury for their testimony in the 2016 retrial of the man charged with homicide. Grand juries are only used in federal cases, in which perjury is not an uncommon charge. Many people do not realize that many people are also charged with perjury under state law, as well. Below, our criminal defense lawyer in Philadelphia explains this law, and the possibilities you may face without a solid defense strategy.

What is Perjury?

During official legal proceedings, the individuals involved are typically questioned under oath. When you testify, you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This is an oath the law and the courts take very seriously. If it is found that you lied while under oath, you can face the charge of perjury.

You can also be charged with perjury if you allege, under oath, that a previous statement you made was true, as long as the statement is material to the case and you do not believe the statement to be true. If you retract a false statement before it impacts the outcome of the proceeding, the Commonwealth cannot charge you with perjury.

There are Defenses to Perjury

Being charged with perjury is scary, but it is not hopeless. Fortunately, there are many defenses available and they include:

  • You made a mistake: If you made a statement you believed was true, but you were mistaken, that can serve as a defense to perjury. However, if an attorney asks you a question you are unsure about and you guess at the answer, you can still perjure yourself. You must have believed the statement you made was true at the time you said it.
  • Entrapment: It is not uncommon for law enforcement officers to coerce witnesses into giving statements that are untrue. When using the defense of entrapment, you must have had no intention of perjuring yourself until speaking to the officer.
  • Lack of knowledge: The lack of knowledge defense is a difficult one to prove, but it is possible. A lack of knowledge differs from making a mistake because it means you may have not completely understood the question, or you may have used the wrong choice.

Penalties for Perjury

If the Commonwealth convicts you of perjury, you may face up to seven years in jail. The judge may also choose to impose a fine as an alternative, or in addition to, the sentence of jail time. The length of the incarceration and the fine levied will depend on the facts of the case.

Our Perjury Lawyers in Philadelphia Can Provide a Solid Defense

If you or someone you love has been charged with perjury, our experienced Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers at van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim can advise you of your legal options. Contact us today by calling (215) 486-0123 or by filling out our online form to schedule a free consultation with one of our skilled attorneys.


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