What Does Perjury Mean? Why Is It a Crime?

what does perjury mean

Making a false statement in a case that falls under the jurisdiction of a federal department or agency is a crime in the federal system. Often people get confused about what does Perjury means in actuality. Federal law also prohibits Perjury—a crime under federal law when someone “knowingly” attests to or subscribes to claims they don’t believe to be true. 

Furthermore, under the terms of a federal statute, some fraudulent certificates are punishable as Perjury.

The First Amendment does not protect perjured testimony because it affects courts’ capacity to properly acquire accurate testimony and deliver justice. Judges and juries frequently rely on sworn testimony and signed papers at the time while providing verdicts, sentencing, or other significant judgments. Thus It is assumed that statements made under oath and in some legal documents are true or made in good faith.

Definition of Perjury

Perjury and similar false statements are illegal under several Federal legislation.  

1621 and 1623 are the two statutes for perjury violations that are most frequently used.

  •  The classic perjury statute, Section 1621, is widely applicable and is used to prosecute perjuries committed before legislative, administrative, or judicial authorities. 
  • The addition of Section 1623 in 1970 solved some evidence issues that afflicted these challenging prosecutions. But Congress only allowed it to be used in cases when the defendant made false statements to federal courts and grand juries.

Both the 18 U.S.C. 1621 and the 1623 provisions outlaw the same conduct. When someone willfully (under section 1621) or knowingly (under section 1623) makes a false statement about a material matter while under oath, they have committed Perjury.

The crime of lying under oath by providing false information in a case in a court of law is known as Perjury. In various legal proceedings, a witness is a person who has important information that is necessary for justice. 

Examples of Perjury

The husband lied that a child born in violation of the law in the birth certificate at the time of testimony is Perjury. 

The accused swore under oath that he didn’t know about the victim, which the prosecutor proves that he had two years of relationship with the victim. It is also Perjury.  

Types of Perjury

Under federal law, Perjury gets divided into two types. 

The first type of Perjury includes statements made under oath and calls for evidence that:

  • A person made a false statement under oath to truthfully testify, declare, depose, or certify the truth
  • A person makes a false statement
  • A person makes a statement false intentionally
  • A Statement made in a subject matter was relevant to the procedure

The second type of Perjury unsworn statements and calls for evidence that:

  • If the statement was made under the penalty of Perjury
  • A statement made knowingly that they don’t believe to be true
  • The subject matter of the statement is also material.

Elements under Testimonial Perjury Generally (18 U.S.C. § 1621(1)) 


The statutes define “whoever,” which indicates different legislative intent, which means corporations, companies, persons and entities, etc. As a rule, the companies are liable to fore act held by the employees, officers, or agents under the authority which benefits the company. As was previously mentioned, corporations have been found guilty of making misleading statements under Section 1001, but only sometimes or never comes under Section 1621(1).

Willfully, knowingly

Section 1621(1) requires that the defendant not only made a false statement but also knew it was untrue. Supreme Court has indicated that willful Perjury consists of “deliberate material falsification under oath.” Willful Perjury has also been characterized as behaving “intentionally” or with the “purpose to deceive the “by other courts. 

In a case that involves a violation of section 1001, the court cited the supreme court’s general statement about “willfully,” which means the defendant acted knowing his actions were unlawful. However, to find the defendant guilty of Perjury under Section 1621(1), the prosecution must prove that the defendant believed the statement false.

Having Taken an Oath

The phrase “anyone having taken an oath” in section 1621(1) applies to sworn written or oral testimony given to a federal tribunal, official, or person. Verbal or written declarations made under oath or affirmation are examples of Perjury. For example, a witness testifying in court makes an oral declaration when sworn. Perjury charges can be brought against those who make statements outside of court.


Under section 1621(1), false testimony is illegal. In the case of Bronston v. United States, the evidence provided is truthful, even though it is done illegally, which cannot get prosecuted under section 1621(1); the prosecution must show that the statement is untrue.

However, if the government can show that the defendant made two sufficiently contradictory claims to make one of them intentionally false, then 1623 permits a conviction for Perjury. In other words, if the prosecution enables under section 1623, then the government is not required to prove that the statement is false and only prove that both statements are untrue.


The false statement must also be material. If a statement can affect the decision of the decision-making body to which it is directed, it is considered material. The statement must have the ability to have such effect to satisfy this condition; it need not influence the decision.


The offense is complete when the false statement is delivered to the tribunal, even when a contemporaneous correction of a false statement may be shown if there is a lack of intention to commit Perjury. Confession is not a defense and does not prevent prosecution under Section 1621.

Penalty Under Federal Perjury

The maximum federal prison term for perjury convictions under any statute is five years. For perjury convictions, there is no set minimum term in jail. A perjury crime may also result in a maximum federal prison sentence of eight years if domestic or international terrorism is involved, among other circumstances.

High fines might be one of the additional consequences for federal perjury charges in Washington, DC. If found guilty of Perjury, a person may get sentenced to pay a fine of up to $250,000, and an organization may get sentenced to pay a fine of up to $500,000.


Making a false statement under oath, whether orally or in writing, that one knows to be incorrect and relevant to the proceedings in which the statement is made constitutes the criminal act of Perjury. As a result, Perjury is defined in a far more thoughtful way than most people understand. It needs evidence of more than just making a false statement while under oath in court or anywhere else, and a person must essentially make a false statement to defraud. 

A person taking such an oath may violate federal perjury statutes if they decide to testify or state any critical information they do not believe is true. The same holds if someone willfully lies after swearing under oath to speak the truth under penalty of Perjury. So, after knowing what does Perjury means and its penalties, one should be careful for any false statements in court. 

FAQs on Perjury

How can Perjury be proved?

Only strong evidence that disputes a witness’s sworn statement while under oath can prove Perjury.

What is the punishment for Perjury?

According to federal law, a perjurer might spend up to five years in jail.

Is lying and Perjury are same?

Lying is one of the aspects of Perjury.

What is the difference between Perjury and a False Statement?

Perjury is any intentional and corrupt false statement on a matter under oath and is not made in judicial proceedings but False testimony, which is given during a legal proceeding.

Why is Perjury a crime?

Because it might interfere with the fundamental objective of the legal system, which is to find the truth, Perjury, is a severe offense.