Perjury is generally defined as the deliberate making of a false or misleading statement while under oath. While we normally think of perjury as occurring during court testimony, the offense can also occur in writing. It is, for example, illegal to lie on a marriage certificate or tax return.
There are six elements to the criminal offense of perjury in Washington, D.C., each of which the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. First, the government must prove that the defendant testified under oath or affirmation. Second, the oath or affirmation must have been taken before a competent tribunal or person. Third, the taking of that oath or affirmation must have been authorized by law. Fourth, the defendant must have made the statements. Fifth, the statements must have been “material.” Sixth, the statements must have been false. Finally, the defendant must have known or believed the statements were false when s/he made them.
“Material” has been defined as having a natural tendency to influence or to be capable of influencing the decision of the tribunal or person in making a required determination. D.C. follows the so-called “two-witness” rule, according to which the uncorroborated oath of one witness is not enough to establish the falsity of the defendant’s statement.
The penalty for a conviction of perjury in D.C. is a fine of not more than $5,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 10 years. D.C. Criminal Code § 22-2402.
The government must prove three elements beyond a reasonable doubt in order to secure a conviction for perjury in Virginia. First, the government must prove that the defendant made a false statement under oath or false written statement under penalty of perjury. Second, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant did so knowingly and willfully. Finally, the government must prove that the statement was “material” to any issue being tried or heard.
The falsity of any statement must be established by two or more witnesses or by one witness whose testimony is corroborated by independent evidence. In order for a statement to be “material,” the statement must be relevant to the fact that is being tried or heard or to any substantial circumstance which tends to prove or disprove such fact.
Perjury in Virginia is punishable by imprisonment from one to 10 years, confinement in jail for up to 12 months, and/or a fine of up to $2,500. Virginia Code §18.2-434. Virginia Code §8.01-4.3.