If you are involved in a court case, then you might find yourself on the stand. Your testimony on the stand can make or break your case. With so much riding on your testimony, you might feel the temptation to lie. However, that can hurt you. Lying under oath is a serious offense. Find out how you can tell the truth without hurting your case.
Why is Lying Under Oath a Dangerous Idea?
When a judge or jury needs to issue a verdict or a sentence, they rely on testimony from the trial. Everything that they use to make a decision is taken at face value. Although that might seem trusting, it’s not. They can trust testimony because lying under oath has some severe penalties. If there were no penalties, then the judge or jury would have no reason to believe your testimony. However, the penalties make it more likely that people will tell the truth under oath. It is common for people who lie under oath to get caught. When they do, they face the legal consequences.
Also known as perjury, lying under oath is a serious offense. By legal definition, perjury occurs when you make a false statement or a misleading statement under oath. Additionally, perjury can occur when you sign a legal document that you know is either untrue or misleading.
Whether your perjury involves a small lie or a big one, the court treats it seriously. Your lie could change the outcome of an individual’s life. For that reason, every case of perjury is a crime against justice.
If you lie under oath, then you could face fines or jail time. The penalties regarding perjury vary from state to state. However, they all rely on the discretion of a judge. If your judge believes that your perjury was less serious, then you might only be responsible for paying fines. On the other hand, a judge could sentence you to several years in jail. According to federal law, someone guilty of perjury has a maximum possible sentence of five years. Many states have similar rules.
In addition to the fines and jail time, the consequences of perjury could affect other areas of your life. For example, a perjury charge could result in you losing your job. If you work in public service, then they consider perjury particularly inappropriate. In certain industries, you could lose your business license. And with a conviction on your record, you might have a hard time finding a new job.
You might think that the key to avoiding perjury is telling the truth. While that is true, you also need to consider your own well-being. If you answer strategically, then there is a good chance that you can avoid perjury without hurting your case. Here are a few tips that can help you out while you’re on the witness stand:
1. Answer All the Questions Honestly
Don’t give in to the temptation to tell a white lie. Even a small lie can hurt your case. If you feel the urge to lie, then stop yourself. Then, compose yourself and tell the truth.
2. Be Truthful in Your Written Documents
Although you might not realize it, you can be guilty of perjury for signing a false document. If you know that a statement or document is untrue, do not sign it. Signing a false document is the same as lying under oath.
3. Ask for Clarification
Sometimes, a lawyer might ask you a question that you do not understand. Often, this is a technique to get you to say something that you regret. The question might be a trick that could hurt your case. Instead of trying to answer it, ask for the lawyer to repeat the question. If you still don’t understand it, then you should ask for him to state it differently. Never try to answer a question that you don’t understand.
4. Prepare Yourself for Taking the Stand
If you have a lawyer, then he will help you prepare for your time on the witness stand. During the preparations, take everything seriously. If you need to study notes on your own time, then do it. There is a strategic way that you can answer questions. When you talk to your lawyer, he can explain the strategy to you. You don’t need to perjure yourself to get a good outcome.
5. Be Respectful
A little respect goes a long way. During your time in court, you should be respectful to the judge and other officers of the court. While this doesn’t mean that you can get away with lying under oath, it does mean that the truth will hurt your case less.
6. Don’t Guess Your Answers
If someone asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to, don’t guess. If you truly don’t know the answer, a judge cannot force you to guess an answer. Guessing can cause trouble for you. If you guess wrong, then you could be guilty of perjury.
7. Refuse Answers if Necessary
If you are on trial, then you can plead the fifth. If necessary, refuse to answer a question. You should talk to your lawyer before using this tactic.