Perjury: A Class III Felony

We all grew up enjoying the story of George Washington, his hatchet, and his mother’s favorite cherry tree. And we were all trained at an early age not to bear false witness, and that honesty is the best policy. We live in a society in which sometimes we have to fight to protect our privacy, and in which sometimes we feel there is way too much information about us available through one method or another. And we have all learned that discretion is important, both in our private lives and in our business dealings.

But there comes a time when a “ little white lie” can get anyone into very serious trouble.

Living in a litigious society

It was during the age of Watergate that the term “disinformation” became common currency. And since that day we have learned, again and again, that a cover up can cause more trouble than the underlying action under question. For most citizens, the issue of testimony under oath may not arise, but we have to consider the fact that we are a very litigious society, and it is very likely that a person might be called to testify under oath, either as a witness, or a party to a lawsuit.

During this process you may be asked questions under oath. Sometimes the true and correct answer to the question is not one you would like to give, or maybe you just won’t think the other party is entitled to the information. What are the consequences of lying under oath?

According to the Nebraska Statute, “A person is guilty of perjury, a Class III Felony, if in any official proceeding he or she makes a false statement under oath or equivalent affirmation, or swears or affirms the truth of the statement previously made when the statement is material and he or she does not believe it to be true.”

More over, “A person is guilty of subornation of perjury, a Class III Felony, if he or she persuades, procures, or suborns any other person to commit perjury.”

And “A falsification shall be material, regardless of the admissibility of the statement under rules of evidence, if it could have affected the course or outcome of the proceeding.”

Interestingly, “No person shall be convicted of an offense under this section when proof of falsity rests solely upon contradiction by testimony of a single person other than the defendant.”

What does it mean as a practical matter?

There will be times when you may be asked questions under oath, and you simply don’t want to give a truthful answer. Your attorney may be able to find reasons why you should not be forced to answer a question, either by timely objections, or by obtaining protective orders, but if you are compelled to answer a question, you simply must give a truthful answer. If you lie you can be convicted of a Class III Felony, and Class III Felonies can carry up to 20 years in the Nebraska Penitentiary.

It may seem strange that it would be necessary to write a column warning people against lying under oath. We would like to believe that people will either remain silent, or will tell the truth. But experience has taught us that there are people who simply do not want to tell the truth in a given situation. These may be otherwise honorable people, people you meet at your service club meetings, or people you sit next to in church, or people whom you have always enjoyed spending time with. For one reason or another they are very good, respectable people who will find themselves in situations in which they would rather lie than tell the truth.

The warning here is that once you are under oath you simply do not have that choice.

And maybe that is a good thing. Honesty is the best policy.

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