When you take an oath, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth or similar oath, whether testifying in a court of law, during a legal deposition, in a sworn declaration or affidavit, or even when you sign your certain legal applications (such as a for a driver's license), you risk violating the law if any of your statements to which you swore are false and you know the statement(s) to be false.

Under California’s perjury law, Penal Code section 118, it is unlawful to willfully and knowingly provide false information under oath. But the offense requires more than just making the false statement, to be convicted of the offense, the false statement must be “material”, the individual making the false statement must know that when they made the statement it was under oath, and the false statement must have been intended. A final element that applies to written oaths only is that the written oath (a declaration, for example) must be signed and delivered to someone else with the understanding that it would be circulated or published as true.

The conditions under which a person can be charged with perjury are often complicated. An experienced Orange County perjury defense attorney understands the nuances of this offense and hence, the many defense opportunities the required elements of the crime present.

Elements of the Crime

In addition to the requirement that the false information be given willfully and knowingly, to commit the offense of perjury the following is also required:

  1. The false statement or information must be material. This element is a “question of fact.” That is, it is an issue that is determined by the jury. False information is material if information given as a statement or testimony “might have been used to affect [the proceeding in or for which it was made].” (Pen. Code, § 123; see People v. Pierce, supra, 66 Cal.2d at p. 61.) It is no defense to the charge of perjury that alleged perjurer did not know that the false statement was material. (Pen. Code §123.)

    Example: Jill, a witness at a high-profile Orange County criminal trial, testified that she did not know the defendant. In fact, she did personally know the defendant. This was material because she not only knew the defendant but had personal first-hand knowledge that he had committed similar acts as the one for which he was now charged but had not been caught in those previous acts. Fearful for her safety, Jill didn’t want to acknowledge that she knew the defendant and besides, she thought, how would that affect the case. Had she truthfully answered this question, the prosecution could have questioned her on any past behavior on the part of the defendant that she had personally witnessed. Jill could be charged with perjury if the prosecution is able to provide evidence that she did indeed know the defendant.

  2. The person who provides false information under oath must know at that time that the information was indeed false.

    Example: Harry signed a declaration “under penalty of perjury” that he was the rightful owner of contested property located in Irvine. Harry had recently inherited the property from his uncle and believed he owned it. As it turned out, his uncle was not the actual owner of the property, but at the time of his declaration, Harry did not know that. Harry did not commit perjury because he made an honest mistake of fact.

  3. Perjury requires specific intent. That is, the person giving the false testimony or statement must have specifically intended to give the false information.

    Example: Suli, an immigrant who does not speak or understand English, applied for government aid. Suli had not been completely honest about her finances when she applied for this aid. She was provided a form, in English and with no translation in Suli’s native tongue, which she was told to sign. The form she signed stated: "I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct."  Suli did not understand what she was signing and did not know what perjury was. While Suli may have committed fraud or made false statements in her application, she did not commit perjury. Why? Because not even understanding that she signed under penalty of perjury, she lacked the specific intent to declare falsely under oath or penalty of perjury.

  4. A written statement under oath must be delivered. A written deposition, declaration, certificate, or affidavit is deemed to be complete from the time when it is delivered by the person making the statement to any other person with the intent that it be uttered or published as true.

    Example: Jason signed a declaration relevant to a civil suit in which he was a plaintiff. He knew the declaration was false and was hesitant to file it with the court. Having second thoughts, he left it on his desk while he contemplated whether to submit this false statement. The next day, the declaration was missing from his desk. Turned out that his assistant saw the completed declaration on the desk and filed it with the court. Jason did not commit perjury because he had not instructed his assistant to file the declaration and at the time it was filed with the court by his assistant, had not formed the intent to have it delivered (filed).


Any one of the above required elements present a defense as some of the examples demonstrate. Many defenses to the charge relate to willfulness and the specific intent. A person may have made an honest mistake in giving the false information, may have been misinformed, and so on. Additionally, there must be either direct or indirect evidence that the information provided was false. In the hypothetical example of Jill’s trial testimony above, if Jill does not later admit that she did indeed know the defendant and the prosecution is unable to present evidence in the way of testimony from another party or some other evidence that she did know the defendant, and even if the prosecution is aware that she did know the defendant, Jill cannot be convicted of perjury.


Although many are under the impression that perjury is not a serious offense, it is indeed quite serious: Perjury is a felony offense punishable by up to four years in state prison. In many cases, an experience perjury defense attorney will be able to secure a term of felony probation or a reduced sentence in county jail rather than state custody for the convicted perjurer. The offense of perjury is even more serious when it is alleged that the false information led to the conviction of another person. In that case, the perjurer can receive a life in prison sentence.

Are you facing perjury charges?


Attorney William Weinberg has served Orange County clients for over 30 years. His wealth of experience and skill, plus his continued devotion to the best possible outcome for every one of his clients, offers you the best defense. Call him at his Irvine office at (949) 474-8008 or email him at for a complimentary consultation where he can advise you of your defense options.

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