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Lying in Court: Laws and Penalties for Perjury

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Perjury Laws in Texas

When someone is asked to give testimony in a court of law, they are expected to do so in total honesty. In fact, they are legally required to do so when they swear before the court to tell “the truth and nothing but the truth.” Lying or obscuring the truth while under oath in court can land someone in serious legal trouble.

The testimony that is given in court may be the most compelling evidence in a legal case. Even if testimony is only a small part of the case, it can still have a huge effect on the outcome of the proceedings. For this reason, the legal system treats instances of perjury very seriously and committing this crime can be severely punished.


What Is Perjury?

In its most basic form, perjury is defined as the act of lying or giving deliberately misleading information while under oath. For example, when a person is sworn in to the witness stand during a trial or criminal proceeding, they are asked to be completely honest in their statements. If they take this oath and then intentionally provide information that is untrue in order to mislead the court, they have committed an act of perjury.

In Chapter 37.02 of the Texas Penal Code, perjury is defined as:

  • Providing a false statement while under oath with the intent to deceive and with knowledge of the statement’s meaning
  • Swearing that a previously given false statement is true while under oath and with the intent to deceive and with knowledge of the statement’s meaning
  • Making a false unsworn declaration in writing while stating that the declaration is truthful

In most cases, perjury occurs when people make false statements while on the witness stand or while under oath in court. However, as the law states, a person who is asked to make a written declaration outside of court can be charged with perjury if they knowingly provide false information, even if they are not technically under oath at the time.

In some cases, a person may be charged with aggravated perjury, which is an elevated form of this crime. In order to be charged with aggravated perjury in Texas, a person must:

  • Make a false statement that meets the legal definition of perjury


  • Make a false statement that is material

In legal terms, a “material” statement is one which has or may have a direct impact on the outcome of the official proceeding. This distinction can be somewhat confusing so it is helpful to consider some examples of the different types of perjury.

Legal Examples

Marcus is called as a witness at the trial of his friend Wendell. Wendell has been accused of committing an armed robbery. During the trial, the prosecutor asks Marcus if he made a phone call to Wendell on the day of the robbery. Marcus says that he never made that phone call but also states that he called Wendell the next day and Wendell confessed to the crime.

Later, the prosecution produces cell phone records showing that Marcus did, in fact, make the phone call on the day of the robbery. Marcus may be charged with perjury because he lied about one detail of his testimony. However, Marcus still admitted that Wendell confessed to the crime, which is what the prosecution was most interested in. Since Marcus’ false statement did not directly influence the outcome of the case, his charge is not upgraded to aggravated perjury.

In a different example, Becky is called to the witness stand during the trial of her friend Amy. Amy is charged with stealing expensive electronics from a retail store. Becky is asked if she knew that Amy stole the items. Becky swears that she did not.

Later, it is revealed that Becky and Amy both sold the stolen items to an undercover police officer. Becky can be charged with aggravated perjury because her testimony was material to the outcome of the proceeding.

How Perjury Is Discovered and Investigated

During a criminal proceeding, there are many ways for perjury to be discovered and investigated. In many cases, perjury is revealed when a witness later admits that they made a false statement. However, perjury can also come to light when investigations are performed. Both the prosecution and defense may make use of several resources to uncover perjury, including:

  • Private investigators
  • Police reports
  • Law enforcement investigations
  • Cell phone records
  • Email or text message exchanges
  • Undercover law enforcement officers
  • Security camera footage

If the prosecution or defense team believes that a witness has committed perjury or will commit it when they give statements, they may hire private investigators or study documents associated with the case to search for signs of false statements.

Legal Penalties

Perjury is a big deal in the Texas judicial system. Being convicted of this crime can have serious consequences, including:

The penalties for aggravated perjury are even more severe. For example, this crime is punishable by:

  • A conviction for a third degree felony charge
  • Two to 10 years in Texas state prison
  • Up to a $10,000 fine

Legal Defenses

A person who is charged with perjury may have some legal recourse available to them. Under Chapter 37 of the Texas Penal Code, it is a viable defense to prosecution if a defendant who commits perjury admits to their false statement and retracts their statement before the conclusion of the criminal proceeding.

In other cases, the person charged with perjury may claim that they were under duress when they made their statement. If their defense attorney can prove that the witness was coerced or threatened to make false statement, the court may agree to reduce or drop the charges.

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