Can I Be Convicted of Perjury If I Say "I Don't Remember"?

Posted By David L. Carlson, Attorney At Law || 15-Jul-2015

A person commits “perjury” when they lie under oath. A person can be charged with perjury after they have made a false statement after being sworn in or promising to tell the truth in court. For example, a person who lies on the court stand can be charged with perjury, particularly if the lie is material to the case, or otherwise relevant to the outcome.

Perjury is criminalized under state and federal laws. While the basic definition of perjury is almost identical at the state and federal level, the penalties are not necessarily the same. For example, under 18 U.S. Code §1621, on the federal level perjury is a felony, punishable by a fine or up to 5 years in prison, or both.

This means that if someone lies under oath in federal court, they can be sentenced to up to 5 years in prison.

Essentially, once you are sworn under oath, you can be punished if you intentionally make statements that you know to be false. Lying under oath is “perjury,” and you should avoid it at all costs.

What if you don’t know the answer or what if you don’t remember? Of course you can say, “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember,” providing that answer is true.

On the other hand, if you answer a question under oath at deposition or trial and you say that you can’t remember, but you do, that can constitute perjury if it can be proven that you actually did know the answer to the question and that you did remember the truthful answer.

Sometimes an honest answer on the stand can get someone in trouble, and a lie under oath can be costly indeed. That is why some people decide to invoke their rights under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which allows them to refuse to give incriminating evidence against themselves.

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