Telling a white lie may seem like no big deal but when people are not truthful while under oath, it can result in serious penalties. In cases when the false statement or information is material to the proceedings in which it is made or given, people could face federal charges for their dishonesty. This could not only cost them their freedom; it could also seriously affect their employment opportunities and futures.

Under federal law, perjury occurs when someone who has taken an oath of honesty willfully puts forth information that he or she does not believe to be the truth as true and accurate. This may be through any declaration, statement, certificate or verification before a competent tribunal, an officer or in any case in which U.S. law requires the administration of an oath.

According to a report by the Congressional Research Service, it is known as subornation of perjury, and is also considered a criminal offense to encourage or otherwise push others to commit perjury. For subornation of perjury to occur, an act of perjury must have been committed and it must be shown that the false statements were procured or induced by the person alleged of this offense.

Perjury and subornation of perjury are federal felony offenses. As such, they are punishable by a fine of up to $250,000, imprisonment for a maximum of five years or both. When the defendants in perjury cases are organizations, the maximum fine increases to $500,000.

In situations when those who allegedly commit perjury are convicted of other offenses, giving false statements or otherwise perjuring themselves during the investigation, trial or sentencing, may be considered an obstruction of justice. Therefore, it may not carry separate penalties, but instead be treated as a basis for sentencing enhancements for the crimes they were convicted of.