Perjury Definition

Perjury Definition

Black’s Law Dictionary defines perjury as the willful assertion as to a matter of fact, opinion, belief, or knowledge, made by a witness in a judicial proceeding as part of his evidence, either upon oath or in any form allowed by law to be substituted for an oath, whether such evidence is given in open court or in an affidavit, or otherwise, such assertion being material to the issue or point of inquiry and known to such witness to be false.

The Model Penal Code considers a person guilty of perjury if in any official proceeding he makes a false statement under oath or equivalent affirmation, or swears or affirms the truth of a statement previously made when the statement is material and he does not believe it to be true.

What is a Statement?

According to the definition in Texas Penal Code Chapter 37.01, a statement is any representation of fact.

What are Perjury Charges in Texas?

Penal Code 37.02 says a person commits perjury if he intends to deceive and knows of the statements meaning. He then makes a false statement under oath or swears to the truth of a statement previously made. And the statement is required or authorized to be made under oath. Or he makes a false unsworn declaration under Chapter 132 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code.

What is an Unsworn Declaration?

An unsworn declaration dispenses with the need for a notary to stamp a signed affidavit form. It is helpful for inmates to waive service for family law matters while in jail. It also saves a person time from having to track down a notary to stamp a signature on a sworn affidavit. The declaration is enforceable under the Texas perjury statute.

Perjury Punishment

Perjury is a class A misdemeanor in Texas. The punishment is up to a year in jail and $4,000 fine. This includes pledging to act truthfully and faithfully before someone authorized to administer oaths constitutes a valid oath.

Completing a notarized affidavit or unsworn declaration and knowing any portion to be false, and swearing to its accuracy, becomes a crime. This does not include a witness giving an opinion as to the legal effect of the facts of testimony.

This means swearing directly to facts that the person knows to be false constitutes perjury.

Prosecution for inaccurate contributions and expenditure reports involving elections must be conducted under the Election Code.

What is Aggravated Perjury?

Aggravate perjury is Texas Penal Code Chapter 37.02, perjury, committed during an official proceeding and the false statement is material.

A statement is material if it could have affected the course or outcome of the official proceeding. It does not help the person testifying that he or she mistakenly believed the statement to be immaterial.

The extent of materiality is not important. Perjury may include a false statement to the facts that are collateral, remote, or circumstantially important.

Retracting Aggravated Perjury

There is a defense to aggravated perjury under Chapter 37.05. The actor must retract his or her false statement before completion of the testimony of the official proceeding. Also the retraction must be before it is manifest that the falsity of the statement would be exposed.

What is an Inconsistent Statement?

The Texas Penal Code Chapter 37.06 covers an act where a person makes statements under oath. When two of the statements cannot be true, the penal code defines that perjury or aggravated perjury has occurred. The crime may be perjury or aggravated perjury, whichever applies. The state does not need to prove which statement is actually false. Only one statement needs to be within the statute of limitations and it does not matter whether it is the true or false statement that occurs last.

Federal Perjury

This law applies when a person takes an oath before a tribunal, officer, or person in which a law of the United States authorizes an oath to be administered. The person will testify, declare, depose or certify truly, oral or written, truthfully.

A person who in any declaration, certification, verification, or statement under penalty of perjury willfully subscribes as true any material matter when he or she does not believe to be true is guilty of perjury.

The punishment for the federal crime of perjury is a maximum fine of $250,000 and not more than 5 years imprisonment.

What is Subornation of Perjury?

A person who procures another to commit perjury is guilty of subornation of perjury. The penalty for subornation of perjury is up to a $250,000 fine and a maximum of 5 years imprisonment.


The United States judicial system relies heavily on witness testimony. For obvious reasons, truthful statements by witnesses are necessary for the courts to come to just conclusions. Aggravated perjury in Texas can result in up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000. Federal perjury carries a maximum of 5 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

Perjury in the US was adopted along with other common law from England. The English court of law “Star Chamber”, at the Royal Palace of Westminister, began punishing perjury at the end of the fifteenth century. The common law punishment could vary up to execution.

In Texas, a perjury charge may result in a more serious sentence if the perjury results in a death penalty execution. A perjury statement that results in death can be charged as murder. In some jurisdictions perjury that does not even result in death may still be sentenced up to life imprisonment for the person committing perjury.

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Author: Eric Torberson

Eric Torberson is a licensed attorney in Texas as well as licensed in the federal courts of the southern and western districts of Texas.