PERJURY

Published date01 July 2021
Date01 July 2021
PERJURY
I. INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1293
A. Section 1621: False Testimony Generally . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1294
B. Section 1622: Subornation of Perjury. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1296
C. Section 1623: False Testimony to Court or Grand Jury . . . . . . 1297
II. ELEMENTS OF THE OFFENSE. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1298
A. Oath. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1298
B. Intent . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1299
C. Falsity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1301
D. Materiality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1305
E. Key Distinctions between §§ 1621 and 1623 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1307
1. Two-Witness Rule . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1309
2. Use of False Material . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1310
3. Inconsistent Declarations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1311
III. DEFENSES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1312
A. Recantation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1312
B. Assistance of Counsel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1314
C. Double Jeopardy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1315
D. Perjury Trap. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1316
E. Fifth Amendment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1317
IV. SENTENCING . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1318
I. INTRODUCTION
Perjury occurs when an individual makes a false statement under oath before
a federal tribunal or off‌icial.
1
Every branch and level of government relies on
sworn testimony, so the integrity of governmental processes depends in large
part on the truthfulness of statements made under oath.
2
Thus, perjury threat-
ens to subvert the fair administration of justice and the proper functioning of
government.
1. See Charles Doyle, Cong. Rsch. Serv., False Statements and Perjury: An Overview of Federal Criminal
Law 1 (2018).
2. See United States v. Alvarez, 567 U.S. 709, 720–21 (2012) (“Perjury undermines the function and
province of the law and threatens the integrity of judgements that are the basis of the legal system.”); ABF
Freight Sys., Inc. v. NLRB, 510 U.S. 317, 323 (1994) (“False testimony in a formal proceeding is
intolerable. We must neither reward nor condone such a ‘f‌lagrant affront’ to the truth-seeking function of
adversary proceedings.” (quoting United States v. Mandujano, 425 U.S. 564, 576 (1976))); United States v.
Norris, 217 F.3d 262, 274 (5th Cir. 2000) (“Perjury . . . is a serious offense that results in incalculable harm
to the . . . integrity of the legal system as well as to private individuals.” (quoting United States v. Holland,
22 F.3d 1040, 1047 (11th Cir. 1994))).
1293
To free courts of the “pollution of perjury”
3
by deterring and punishing false tes-
timony,
4
Congress has enacted three statutes criminalizing perjury:
5
18 U.S.C.
§§ 1621, the general perjury statute;
6
1622, the subornation of perjury statute;
7
and
1623, the statute concerning perjury before a grand jury or court.
8
The remainder
of this section provides an overview of the three perjury statutes. Section II exam-
ines the elements of §§ 1621 and 1623. Section III discusses defenses. Section IV
addresses sentencing.
A. Section 1621: False Testimony Generally
Section 1621 is the broadest of the three federal perjury statutes.
9
This statute
applies to all material statements or information provided under oath to “a compe-
tent tribunal, off‌icer, or person, in any case in which a law of the United States
authorizes an oath to be administered,”
10
including statements provided outside the
3. Bronston v. United States, 409 U.S. 352, 357 (1973) (“The [perjury] statute . . . is ‘a federal statute enacted
in an effort to keep the course of justice free from the pollution of perjury.’” (quoting United States v. Williams,
341 U.S. 58, 68 (1951))).
4. See Dunn v. United States, 442 U.S. 100, 107 (1979) (f‌inding that § 1623’s purpose is “to facilitate perjury
prosecutions and thereby enhance the reliability of testimony before federal courts and grand juries”); United
States v. Snyder, 428 F.2d 520, 522 (9th Cir. 1970) (explaining that § 1621 is designed to forestall perjury and
deter false testimony through punishment); United States v. Sherman, 150 F.3d 306, 315 (3d Cir. 1998) (f‌inding
that § 1623’s purpose is “to encourage truthful testimony by witnesses appearing before federal courts and grand
juries”). An additional purpose of § 1623 is to correct perceived evidentiary problems in demonstrating perjury
under § 1621. See Dunn, 442 U.S. at 108.
5. Congress’s power to enact the three statutes is “ in furtherance of [its] power to constitute federal
tribunals.” United States v. Comstock, 560 U.S. 126, 136 (2010) (citing Jinks v. Richland County, 538 U.S. 456,
462 n.2 (2003)).
6. Section 1621 provides in relevant part:
Whoever . . . having taken an oath . . . that he will testify, declare, depose, or certify truly, or that
any written testimony, declaration, deposition, or certif‌icate by him subscribed, is true, willfully
and contrary to such oath states or subscribes any material matter which he does not believe to be
true . . . is guilty of perjury and shall, except as otherwise expressly provided by law, be f‌ined
under this title or imprisoned not more than f‌ive years, or both.
7. Section 1622 provides in its entirety: “[w]hoever procures another to commit any perjury is guilty of
subornation of perjury, and shall be f‌ined under this title or imprisoned not more than f‌ive years, or both.” Id.
§ 1622.
8. Section 1623 provides in relevant part:
Whoever under oath . . . in any proceeding before or ancillary to any court or grand jury of the
United States knowingly makes any false material declaration or makes or uses any other informa-
tion, including any book, paper, document, record, recording, or other material, knowing the same
to contain any false material declaration, shall be f‌ined under this title or imprisoned not more
than f‌ive years, or both.
Id. § 1623(a).
9. However, § 1621 is not to be “loosely construed.” Bronston v. United States, 409 U.S. 352, 360 (1973)
(“[T]he statute [should not be] invoked simply because a wily witness succeeds in derailing the questioner—so
long as the witness speaks the literal truth.”).
10. 18 U.S.C. § 1621(1); see infra Section II.B and accompanying notes (discussing contexts in which § 1621
applies as restricted by the intent element).
1294 AMERICAN CRIMINAL LAW REVIEW [Vol. 58:1293

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