Despite perjury being a widely used legal term, the fact is that it is not a particularly common criminal charge. The charge is rarely enforced because it is difficult to prove. However, when the state or federal law does charge perjury, the cases are treated very seriously, as a perjury case is often viewed as a slap in the face of the judicial system. The consequences for the accused can be devastating. Thus it is imperative to seek the help of an experienced criminal attorney in Florida to help put the odds in your favor.
What Factors Define Perjury Under Florida Law Statute?
Under Chapter 837 of Florida’s criminal code, a person can be charged with perjury when they knowingly give a false statement while under oath. Typically, the offense occurs at a trial during a witness’s testimony but can also occur in other situations, such as providing falsifying official documents. The Florida statute on perjury defines situations where a perjury case may arise, but certain common elements must be present.
Factors that Define Perjury in Florida
- There must be a written or oral testimony or deposition, as gestures and silence do not qualify as perjury.
- The statement must be made under oath, which means you have sworn to tell the truth. This means that you must have taken the oath before someone authorized to administer it, such as a judge, notary public, court reporter, general or special magistrate, hearing examiner or commissioner etc.
An oath declares that a witness understands their testimony must be valid and that the law will hold them responsible for any untruthful testimony. Swearing an oath usually appeals to the witness’s sense of right and duty to testify honestly. Beyond these factors, the specific crime of perjury will be analyzed based on the context. You risk being charged with perjury if:
- You give a false statement in connection with an unofficial proceeding
- You lie in an official proceeding, usually while testifying in a courtroom
- You make contradictory statements on one or more official proceedings
- You give false information to law enforcement in a police report or,
- Provide false information during a police investigation.
The possibility of being charged with this offense can be scary. However, the state must first prove that you knowingly lied under oath. Misspeaking or failure to accurately recall a series of events should not carry a criminal record or prison sentence. Therefore, it is vital to immediately involve an experienced criminal attorney if you have been accused of perjury in Florida.
Penalties for Perjury in Florida
Florida law can charge you with perjury under three different statutes that define and prohibit the crime. Those are perjury in an official proceeding, perjury in a non-official proceeding and perjury by contradictory statements. The statutes describe the potential penalty for perjury based on the context and circumstances upon which the alleged offense occurred. The more serious the proceeding in which the offense occurred, the more seriously the crime will be charged.
Also, remember that you do not need to be testifying in your own criminal trial to be accused of perjury. Any statements you give that may lead to charges if you are a witness for someone else or if you are testifying in a civil case. However, if you are the defendant in a criminal trial and commit perjury, the punishment will be in addition to any sentence you receive for the underlying crime.
Perjury in an Official Proceeding Involving Capital Felony
In an official capital prosecution, the crime of perjury is considered a Second Degree felony. It is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, 15 years of probation and up to $10,000 in fines. The crime, in this case, is assigned a level 8 offense severity ranking under Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code.
Perjury in Official Proceeding
In an official proceeding, perjury qualifies as a Third Degree Felony and is punishable by up to five years in prison, five years of probation and up to $5000 in fines. The offense is ranked level 4 in severity ranking under Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code. A judge may sentence the accused in an Official Proceeding to probation but can also impose a sentence not exceeding the statutory maximum of five years in prison.
Perjury in an Unofficial Proceeding
The crime of perjury in the context of an unofficial proceeding is considered a First Degree Misdemeanor and is punishable by one year in jail, one year of probation and up to $1000 in fines. They may sentence the convicted person in an Unofficial proceeding to probation but can also impose the statutory maximum jail term.
Defenses to Perjury
In addition to the pretrial and trial defenses that can be raised during a criminal case, specific defenses to the crime of committing perjury include:
Under Florida law, materiality is not a defense but a threshold issue that a judge must decide as a matter of law. An attorney will use this defense to show that the false or contradictory statement was not related to any material of the proceeding. The jury is not usually involved in this case, and the court may dismiss the perjury charge without needing a trial.
This can be used as a defense if you acknowledge that the statement given during the same ongoing proceeding was false. However, the statement should have had a minor effect on the legal proceeding, and the admission must be made before it becomes apparent or is exposed by anyone else.
Find a Criminal Defense Attorney for Perjury in Florida
Perjury charges are serious, but with a seasoned attorney’s knowledge, you can confidently challenge the allegations before you while protecting your rights. Have you been arrested or charged with perjury in Florida? Contact Meltzer & Bell, P.A to discuss your circumstances and determine the best strategy to proceed. We will work together to create an aggressive and effective defense to fight the perjury charges against you for the best possible outcome.