In a California court case, there may be many opportunities for a person to avoid telling the truth. You may wonder if lying in a criminal case constitutes perjury.

According to the Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities, distinguishing between lying and the criminal offense of perjury is not straightforward.

The four components of perjury

Based on legal precedent and statutes, perjury has four basic elements:

  • An oath to provide honest testimony in court
  • The intent to lie and knowledge that the statement is not true
  • The false statement itself
  • Materiality (relevance or significance) of the lie to the outcome of the case

Minor misstatements or false statements that are not relevant to the case may not be considered perjury.

Proof of perjury

As with any offense, if the prosecutor says you committed perjury, he or she must have evidence of this. For example, someone who makes conflicting statements in a court proceeding that cannot both be true may face a perjury charge. The prosecutor would not have to prove which statement was false; it would only matter that they are both relevant to the case, and at least one of them is not true.

Defenses for a perjury charge

In many cases, perjury charges tend to be very difficult to prove. For example, figurative or unclear language may give the appearance of a lie without proof of the intent to deceive the judge or jury. Or, you may realize that you have made conflicting statements and have the option to recant one of them if you did not substantially change the current proceeding already by making it.

Because the four components of perjury may be difficult to prove, and because defense options may vary widely based on the individual case, this general information should not be interpreted as legal advice.