The Crime of Perjury in Massachusetts

What Is Perjury in Massachusetts?

The crime of perjury in Massachusetts is set out in G.L. c. 268 §1. The statute prohibits you from providing a false statement in a judicial proceeding or a proceeding in the course of justice when you are lawfully required to do so and have sworn to do so. The lie must pertain directly to “a matter material to the issue or point in question.” Materiality depends on whether, when viewed objectively, the testimony had a reasonable tendency to influence a pertinent determination.

What Are the Potential Penalties for Perjury?

A perjury conviction carries with it a possible twenty-year state prison sentence. If someone commits perjury in a murder case or other capital crime, there is a potential life sentence.

Although the crime of perjury is a felony in Massachusetts, this type of case can also be litigated in the District Court with the potential punishment ranging from a fine of not more than one thousand dollars or imprisonment for up to two and one half years in jail. There is no requirement that a defendant has to serve committed time upon conviction of this crime.

What Does the Prosecution Have to Prove to Win at Trial?

In order for someone to convict you of perjury, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your answers were willfully, deliberately and intentionally false and related to a “material issue.”

How Can the Prosecutor Prove That an Answer Was Willfully, Deliberately and Intentionally False?

This is clearly the most difficult part of the case for both sides. If a defendant believes that his or her statement is true, then perjury cannot be shown. However, a defendant’s knowledge relative to the veracity of his or her testimony can be inferred from the falsity of a statement alone. It is not perjury if someone “falsely swears” to a fact that he or she believes is true.

Massachusetts case law has also held that the prosecutor cannot prove its case by simply demonstrating that testimony in the grand jury is false. The prosecution must also prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the false statement was material to an issue being considered by the grand jury. Thus, lying is not necessarily the crime. However, knowingly and intentionally swearing to false information that is material to the prosecution of a case can land you in the defendant’s seat.

In What Situations Can the Crime of Perjury Be Committed, Other than the Criminal Arena?

Lying to a Grand Jury or at trial are not the only situations that can trigger perjury charges. Individuals that intentionally lie as to material issues during a civil deposition when under oath and individuals involved in custody disputes or divorce proceedings that lie under oath relative to material issues can also face the criminal charge of perjury.

Is Perjury Often Charged in Massachusetts?

Perjury is rarely charged in Massachusetts. You have to keep in mind that in almost every criminal trial, witnesses for the prosecution say something entirely contradictive to witnesses for the defense. There would be a gross miscarriage of justice if everyone whose testimony conflicted with the prosecution witnesses were charged with perjury. There must be and should be prosecutorial restraint in bringing perjury charges. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. As the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court once held, “talk is cheap,” and the Commonwealth bears the burden of proving knowing falsity, as well as “materiality,” beyond a reasonable doubt.

Sometimes people have been improperly influenced by law enforcement officials to provide testimony that is not entirely accurate. If the person subsequently decides to tell the truth, doing so can subject him to perjury charges. This is where hiring a criminal attorney becomes a necessity. If you have been charged with perjury or believe that you are being investigated for committing this crime in Massachusetts. Perjury charges are quite serious and should be defended rigorously with someone who has extensive criminal experience. The attorney is that person. It is never too late to exercise your rights in criminal cases. Your failure to do so can be a critical mistake. Hire a lawyer if you have been charged with a crime or if you believe that you might be charged with a crime.