California Penal Code Section 118 PC: Perjury

By Spodek Law Group | May 12, 2018

We have all heard about people who tell white lies. Are there some occasions when telling a lie is acceptable, and then others when it is not? According to California law, there are definitely situations where it is not acceptable to tell anything but the truth. While you might be able to say what you want in the comfort of your own home, the same freedom is not afforded to you when in a legal proceeding such as when testifying under oath. It is important to understand that perjury, or lying under oath, is a criminal offense in the state of California.

California Penal Code Section 118 Explained

Penal code 118 deals with perjury, which is the action of giving false information in a legal proceeding when you are under oath. The act is considered to be lying, and it must be purposeful in nature. Unknowingly lying under oath is not considered to be perjury. There are various situations where perjury may be charged. These include when giving testimony in court, speaking during a civil deposition, making a sworn statement or declaration, giving personal information when applying for a driver’s license, and when applying for any type of official certificate.

There are five facets that must be present before an individual can be charged with perjury. These include:

1) The accused must be under oath at the time a statement is made that constitutes perjury.
2) The individual who is accused must purposefully state that their information is accurate, even though they know it is not.
3) The information that is given must be consider important to the legal matter that is at the center of the testimony.
4) The individual who is being accused must know that the statement being made was being done so under the penalty of perjury.
5) The person charged with perjury must be found to have purposely given false information while being sworn in under oath.

Again, all five of these conditions should be met before a charge of perjury can stick. The information that is at the center of the charge must be considered to be material in nature, and the false nature of the information deemed to have an impact on the legal proceedings.

Examples to Consider

To help better understand this particular California statute, consider an example of a person filling out an application for a driver’s license. Imagine that this person is a fugitive in another state and wants to lie low in California. In order to fly under radar, so to speak, this individual indicates the wrong date of birth on this application. When he signs the application, it is clearly indicated that the person swears all information to be accurate under penalty of perjury. Since birthdate information is considered vital to law enforcement officials in terms of identifying another individual, this person could be charged with perjury. At the same time, if the same individual was embarrassed about his weight and put a figure that is much lower than reality, perjury would not have been committed. This is because weight information is not considered to be ‘material’ to a driver’s license application.

Possible Defenses to a Perjury Charge

There are several possible defenses that you can lodge if you have been charged with perjury in California. The most common is referred to as the mistake of fact defense. This is applicable if you really believed that the statement you made under oath was true at the time that you said it. Remember that perjury involves purposefully stating false information, so this must be proven in order to be found guilty. There is also the accident defense where an individual that is accused of perjury actually proves that they did not intentionally lie. He or she may have, for example, misunderstood the question. The bottom line is that you must be proven to have lied under oath in order to be convicted of perjury. It cannot simply be hearsay, or another individual or lawyer stating that you are lying.

Penalties for a Conviction

It is important to know that perjury is considered to be a felony under this statute in California. As such, jail time in the amount of up to four years is possible. You could also be issued a substantial fine for a conviction as well. If the perjury is considered to be aggravated in nature, meaning another person was convicted as a result of your testimony, the punishment can be extended to include life in prison or even death.

A conviction for perjury can change your life forever. It can impact your ability to get professional licenses in the future, and it will alter your employment prospects. If you have been charged with this crime, it is important to consult with a professional and experienced lawyer right away.

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