When a witness testifies in court, they are obligated to swear an oath that the testimony that they are about to give is truthful. The reason why courts require people to swear an oath to tell the truth prior to testifying is to emphasize the importance of the “truth” during a legal proceeding. The “truth” is the foundation of any legal system. During a court proceeding, there are necessarily conflicting testimonies presented. This is expected. But not everyone who presents conflicting testimony is lying. Sometimes people are simply mistaken. Perjury, however, involves a person intentionally making false or misleading statements. But can you be convicted of perjury for saying, “I don’t remember?” Well, it depends.
Perjury is a crime under both state and federal law. Perjury involves a person knowingly making false or misleading statements while under oath and subject to penalty of law. The courts take the crime of perjury seriously because when a person knowingly present false statements in court, they are impugning the integrity of the court system and this can lead to a miscarriage of justice. Under 18 USC section 1621, a person convicted of perjury faces fines and up to 5 years in prison.
Proving that someone has committed perjury, however, can often be difficult. First off, one important thing to remember is that not all intentionally false or misleading statements made by a person while he is under oath or subject to penalty of law are considered perjury. The crime of perjury is only committed when a person intentionally makes a false statement about facts that are material to the outcome of the legal proceeding. For example, if a person knowingly lies about his age during sworn testimony, he has not committed the crime of perjury unless his age is materially relevant to the outcome of the case at hand.
Perjury for Saying, “I Don’t Remember”
While on the face of it saying, “I don’t remember” seems like an easy way out of a difficult or uncomfortable situation. After all, no one can get inside your head and see what’s going on, right? Sure that is true. But, however, things are not that simple. Whether or not you have committed the crime of perjury depends upon several things.
First, did you knowingly make a false statement when you said “I don’t remember?” Second, were you under oath or otherwise subject to penalty under the law when you made the statement? And finally, did you make that statement about something that was material to the outcome of the legal proceeding? If the answer to all of these questions is yes, then you are probably guilty of the crime of perjury. But so what? The question isn’t whether you committed perjury by saying, “I don’t remember,” but rather whether or not you can be convicted of perjury for making that statement.
For a prosecutor to convict you of perjury for saying, “I don’t remember,” he has to have evidence to the contrary; just like in any other case. As you can imagine, it can be very difficult for a prosecutor, or anyone else for that matter, to prove what you do or do not remember. So, for the most part, as long as there is no evidence available to the prosecutor that proves otherwise, you’re okay.
However, there may be contradictory evidence out there that you either do not know about or that you have forgotten about. For example, the police may have a lawfully recorded surveillance tape that shows you talking about the things that you claim you don’t remember. Or, you may have made a prior statement under oath that shows that did, at that time, remember the events that you are now claiming that you can’t recall.
As you can see, the answer to the question of whether or not you can be convicted of perjury for saying, “I don’t remember” is complicated and fact dependent. If you are in a situation where you think that you may be subject to a perjury charge, you should immediately contact a reputable criminal attorney.
A criminal attorney knows that the prosecutor has to prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt. In these types of cases, a criminal defense attorney has a multitude of legal defenses that he can raise on your behalf to get the charges dropped. Don’t try to handle this type of case on your own. There is too much at stake. Call a good criminal defense attorney right away.
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