Perjury

Perjury is a criminal offense under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 268 Section 1. Because there are two different types of perjury, the prosecutor can prove either one of the following two sets of elements beyond a reasonable doubt to convict a defendant of this crime:

  1. The defendant was legally required to tell the truth in a judicial proceeding (in court) or in a proceeding in the course of justice;
  2. The defendant made a statement in a matter material to the point under investigation. A statement is material if, viewed objectively, it has the natural tendency to affect the determination. Materiality does not require that the statement actually influenced the determination;
  3. That statement was false; and
  4. The defendant made that false statement willfully and intentionally. Willfulness requires the specific intent to act with a bad purpose.

OR

  1. The defendant was legally required to take an oath or affirmation. Unlike the first type of perjury, which deals with court proceedings, this type does not require a judicial or adjudicatory proceeding. It only requires a legal justification for requiring an oath;
  2. The defendant made a statement in a matter relative to which such oath or affirmation is required;
  3. That statement was false; and
  4. The defendant made that false statement willfully and intentionally.

Provided that these elements are satisfied, separate perjury is committed with each willful false statement, unless the statements are substantially the same.

Perjury is a serious crime against public justice. If you are charged with perjury on the trial of an indictment for a capital crime, you face life or any term of years in the state prison. If you are charged with perjury in any other case, you face up to twenty years in state prison, up to $1,000 in a fine, up to two and one half years in a jail, or both such fine and imprisonment in jail.

Perjury is Being Prosecuted With More Frequency in Massachusetts

Law enforcement tactics and prosecutorial policies have changed dramatically in the past few years. The concept of lying to a grand jury or during a trial is now being treated more seriously than ever before in Massachusetts. At times the approach of some Massachusetts district attorneys offices has become excessive. Here is an example. Not too long ago a statutory rape case was tried in a suburban Boston courthouse. A witness came forward and testified that the complainant was not being truthful in her account of her relationship with the defendant. A police detective had taken a statement from the witness that was somewhat different from what she had testified to at trial. The statement was not however “material” as required by the Massachusetts perjury statute. Regardless, the prosecutor subsequently charged the witness with perjury. She then had to defend a felony indictment in the superior court.

In another suburban Boston county a witness allegedly lied to a grand jury in an effort to help her boyfriend who was the target of a criminal investigation. In the past, if the witness were to testify at trial to what the prosecutor believed to be a perpetuation of her lie the prosecutor would advise the sitting judge of the problem. Counsel would be appointed to represent the witness and she likely would have exercised her Fifth Amendment privilege. In this instance however the prosecutor abandoned this approach. Instead, the woman was charged with perjury and prosecuted for this crime.

Getting properly advised prior to testifying under oath is most advisable. Your lawyer will guide you through your rights and obligations so that you will avoid any potential pitfalls.

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