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Penal Code 118 PC – California Perjury Laws

July 8, 2021 California Penal Code

Pursuant to Penal Code 118 PC, California law defines perjury as deliberately giving false testimony while under oath.  Conviction on this charge is a felony punishable by probation, fines, and as much as 4 years in jail or prison.

The language in 118 PC states that “every person who, having taken an oath that he or she will testify…before any competent tribunal, officer, or person, in any of the cases in which the oath may by law of the State of California be administered, willfully and contrary to the oath, states as true any material matter which he or she knows to be false…is guilty of perjury.”

The Best Defenses to 118 PC

A defense attorney can challenge a penalty of perjury charge with a strong legal defense.   Here are three of the best defenses:

  • The “no intentional falsehood” defense
  • The “immaterial subject matter” defense, and
  • The “not under oath” defense.

Penalties

A violation of this statute is a felony. This is opposed to a misdemeanor or an infraction.

The offense is punishable by:

  • custody in state prison for up to four years, or
  • felony (or formal) probation.

Our California criminal defense attorneys will explain the following in this article:

1. By what criteria does California law define perjury?

2. What legal defenses are there?

3. What penalties are possible for 118 PC?

4. Can this conviction be expunged?

5. Does a conviction on 118 PC affect gun rights?

6. What related offenses are there?

 

1. By what criteria does California law define perjury?

A prosecutor must demonstrate the following to convict a person of perjury:

  1. that the defendant took an oath to testify truthfully under penalty of perjury,
  2. that the accused willfully indicated that information was true even though he or she knew it was false,
  3. the information that was falsified was “material,”
  4. that the defendant knew he or she was making the statement while under oath, and
  5. The accused had intend to testify falsely when he or she made the false statement.

An individual is subject to penalty of perjury statutes when he gives information in any of the following situations:

  • court tesitmony,
  • deposition,
  • in a sworn affidavit,
  • when signing a declaration,
  • on a signed certificate, and
  • on a DL 44 driver’s license application at the California DMV.

Defining terminology

Oath

An “oath” is an affirmation or any other method authorized by law to affirm the truth of any statement.

Willfully

For purposes of the perjury statute, someone commits an act “willfully “ when he or she does the thing willingly, or on purpose. This could include a statement to another person delivered verbally or in writing.

Material matter

A conviction under this statute requires that an accused gave a false statement of a material matter.  The statement is “material” if it was used to affect the outcome of a court proceeding, or it had the probability to influence the outcome of one.  Note that it is not a requirement for conviction that the statement actually influence the proceeding.

Also, a statement can be material if it relates to a material fact.

Example: Michelle saw a car accident that set off a personal injury case. She knows the defendant personally and does not like him.  In the course of the trial, Michelle falsely testifies that she saw the defendant speed up right before colliding with the plaintiff.  She does this in hopes that her lie will persuade the jury to find the defendant negligent.

In this scenario, Michelle is guilty of perjury. Her lie was “material” because it was used to affect the outcome of the trial. It would even be material if she her goal was not to persuade the jury, because it was related to a material fact: whether or not the defendant used due care to avoid a collision.

 Intent to testify falsely

A person is only guilty under 118 PC if he or she makes a false statement with a clear intention of doing so.  It is not perjury when a person made a false statement in good faith that they belive what they said was true.

2. What legal defenses are there?

The three best defenses are explained below.

The “no intentional falsehood” defense

Remember that a person is only guilty under these laws if they made a false statement with intent to do so. This means that a good defense is for an accused to say that they did not act with this intent. 

The “immaterial subject matter” defense 

A person is only guilty of perjury if he or shemakes a false statement on a material matter. A defense, therefore, is that a statement was not on a material issue within a proceeding. Perhaps, for instance, a witness simply lied about her age, but her age had nothing to do with the case.

The “not under oath” defense

Penal Code 118 only applies in cases where a person made a statement while under oath. Therefore, an accused is not guilty if he lied,  but he was not sworn in to testify truthfully under penalty of perjury.

3. What penalties are possible for 118 PC?

Perjury is a felony offense in California. The crime is punishable by time in state prison for up to four years, and/or a maximum fine of $10,000.  Note that a judge might award a defendant with  probation in lieu of a prison term.

4. Can this conviction be expunged?

A person can only get an expungement of this felony conviction if they are awarded probation.

5. Does a conviction on 118 PC affect gun rights?

A conviction under perjury laws will hurt a person’s gun rights.  According to California law convicted felons are not permitted to own or possess a gun.

6. What related offenses are there?

There are three crimes related to perjury. These are:

  1. PC 115 – the filing false documents statute,
  2. PC 470 – the forgery laws, and
  3. PC 127 – the Subornation of perjury law .

For further guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact us at Spodek Law Group.  We can give you a free consultation in person or by phone. We serve our clients in the greater Los Angeles area, the San Fernando Valley, Orange County, Ventura, Long Beach, Riverside, Pasadena, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, San Diego, Napa County, Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Jose and throughout the State of California.

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