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What Are The Penalties For Perjury In Michigan?

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When a witness appears in court to testify, there are many rituals present to impress the seriousness of this event upon everyone watching. The witness must raise his hand in the air before the court clerk to take an oath or affirmation. The witness must swear or affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The witness sits in an elevated seat near the judge at the prominent position to be seen and heard by all. When the witness takes an oath to tell the truth, he or she better mean it.

As such, making false statements while under oath is a serious offense. It affects the credibility of the legal proceedings and can lead to wrongful convictions or other miscarriages of justice. Perjury was such an abhorred offense in older times that it would sometimes result in unusual punishments such as removal of the tongue or even death. While modern society does not impose such violent sanctions, an individual convicted of perjury can still look forward to a lengthy incarceration. Perjury is not just limited to testifying in court. An individual can be convicted for false statements made under oath in writing or other acknowledgments. There are even severe criminal penalties for encouraging or assisting another person in committing perjury.

In Michigan, it does not matter if the false statement was related to a material fact or not. "In light of the broad scope of the statutory phrase 'any matter or thing,' [the Michigan Supreme Court] concludes the Legislature intended that a willfully false statement about any matter or thing concerning which an oath was authorized or required falls within the statutory definition of perjury and thus may be charged as perjury if a prosecutor so chooses." People v Lively, 470 Mich 248; 680 NW2d 878 (2004). However, to sustain a conviction for perjury, the prosecutor must prove the falsity of the statement made by establishing the truth of its contradiction. People v Cash, 388 Mich 153, 162; 200 NW2d 83 (1972). "It is not enough simply to contradict it, but evidence of the truth of the contradiction must come from evidence of circumstances bringing strong corroboration of the contradiction." Id.

PERJURY IN COURT (MCL 750.422)

An individual is guilty of perjury in court, contrary to MCL 750.422, if the prosecutor can prove ALL of the following beyond a reasonable doubt (Model Criminal Jury Instruction 14.1):

  • First, that the individual was legally required to take an oath or affirmation in a proceeding in a court of justice. An oath or affirmation is a solemn promise to tell the truth.
  • Second, that the individual took that oath or affirmation.
  • Third, that while under that oath or affirmation the individual made a false statement.
  • Fourth, that the individual knew that the statement was false when he or she made it.

The penalty for perjury in court is a felony conviction punishable as follows:

  • If the perjury was committed on the trial of an indictment for a capital crime, by life or any term of years in state prison.
  • If the perjury was committed in any other court proceeding, by up to 15 years in state prison.

PERJURY BY FALSE STATEMENT (MCL 750.423(1))

An individual is guilty of perjury by false statement, contrary to MCL 750.423(1), if the prosecutor can prove ALL of the following beyond a reasonable doubt (Model Criminal Jury Instruction 14.2):

  • First, that the individual took an oath or affirmation to tell the truth. An oath or affirmation is a solemn promise to tell the truth.
  • Second, that the oath or affirmation was authorized or required by a law of the State of Michigan.
  • Third, that while under that oath or affirmation the individual made a false statement.
  • Fourth, that the individual knew that the statement was false when he or she made it.

These false statements can be in writing, but the oath or affirmation to tell the truth must be required or authorized by law. In People v Lumbard, 94 Mich App 16; 287 NW2d 354 (1979), the defendant filed an application for welfare assistance which contained false statements. The application form signed by defendant contained a declaration that under the penalties of perjury the application had been read by the applicant and that the facts contained therein were true. In that case, the Social Welfare Act contained explicit authority for such a provision to be included on the welfare application form. The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the perjury conviction, finding that "[t]he plain words of this statute evidence a legislative intention that the crime of perjury be charged against anyone who intentionally files an untruthful application for welfare assistance." Id at 18.

However, in People v Kasparis, 107 Mich App 294; 309 NW2d 241 (1981), the defendant's perjury conviction for filing a false monthly sales tax return with the Michigan Department of Treasury was vacated. The General Sales Tax Act (at the time of the prosecution) did not require a sworn or verified return. Therefore, while the act required the taxpayer to sign the return, it did not require that the signature be under oath. Without the requirement under law, the perjury conviction could not be sustained.

The penalty for perjury by false statement is a felony conviction punishable by up to 15 years in state prison.

PERJURY BY FALSE DECLARATION IN A RECORD (MCL 750.423(2))

An individual is guilty of perjury by false declaration in a record, contrary to MCL 750.423(2), if the prosecutor can prove ALL of the following beyond a reasonable doubt (Model Criminal Jury Instruction 14.2a):

  • First, that the individual put his or her signatures on a record. A record includes a written document, or something that is electronically stored or capable of being preserved in some other way. It must be capable of being retrieved or recovered in a form that can be seen, heard, or perceived in some way. A signature is any symbol that the defendant has adopted as his or her own, and includes electronic symbols, sounds or processes.
  • Second, that the record included a provision that the statements or declarations made in the record were given under penalty of perjury.
  • Third, that the record contained a false declaration or statement.
  • Fourth, that the individual knew that the statement was false when he or she made it.

The statute for perjury by false declaration in a record became effective April 1st, 2013.

The penalty for perjury by false declaration in a record is a felony conviction punishable by up to 15 years in state prison.

SUBORNATION OF PERJURY (MCL 750.424)

An individual is guilty of subornation of perjury, contrary to MCL 750.424, if the prosecutor can prove ALL of the following beyond a reasonable doubt (Model Criminal Jury Instruction 14.3):

  • First, that the individual tried to get another person to make a false statement under oath or affirmation.
  • Second, that the individual knew that the statement was false at the time.
  • Third, that as a result the other person made a false statement under oath or affirmation.
  • Fourth, that the oath or affirmation was authorized or required by a law of the State of Michigan.

The penalty for subornation of perjury is a felony conviction punishable by up to 5 years in state prison.

INCITING OR PROCURING PERJURY (MCL 750.425)

An individual is guilty of inciting or procuring perjury, contrary to MCL 750.425, if the prosecutor can prove ALL of the following beyond a reasonable doubt (Model Criminal Jury Instruction 14.4):

  • First, that the individual did or said something in an effort to persuade another person to make a false statement under oath or affirmation. It does not matter whether anyone actually made a false statement under oath or affirmation. The crime is completed as soon as the defendant tried to persuade another person to make a false statement.
  • Second, that the individual knew that the statement was false at the time.
  • Third, that the oath or affirmation was authorized or required by a law of the State of Michigan.

The difference between suborning perjury and inciting or procuring perjury is that the act of perjury does not have to be completed. People v Sesi, 101 Mich App 256; 300 NW2d 535 (1980). In proving this offense, it is not necessary for the prosecutor to show that the witness knew the testimony sought to be procured was false. People v Clement, 127 Mich 130, 132; 86 NW 535 (1901).

The penalty for inciting or procuring perjury is a felony conviction punishable by up to 5 years in state prison.

DEFENSES TO PERJURY

An allegation of perjury is an extremely serious offense, but there may be defenses available to you under the law:

  • DID NOT KNOWINGLY MAKE FALSE STATEMENT - To be guilty of perjury, you must have known that the statement was false when made under oath. If you did not know this at the time the statement was written or said because you were mistaken about the facts, then you did not have the required intent to commit the crime.
  • STATEMENT WAS NOT FALSE - Even if the statement said or written was misleading, it is not perjury if the statement was true.
  • NOT UNDER OATH OR AFFIRMATION - If you were not actually placed under oath or affirmation before rendering the false statement, or the statement was not written "under penalty of perjury", then perjury did not occur.
  • DURESS - You may have a valid defense to perjury if you can show that you gave a false statement under oath because you were threatened with serious injury or death unless you cooperated with the demand to perjure yourself.
  • FALSE STATEMENT WAS RECANTED AT SAME PROCEEDING - You may be able to use recantation as a legal defense to perjury if you acknowledged during the same hearing or proceeding that the statement you gave was false. However, the false statement must not have already affected the legal proceeding in a serious way and the admission must come before another party discovered the perjury. If the recantation comes after the hearing is concluded, it is likely too late to avoid prosecution.

If you or a loved one is charged with perjury, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney in your corner. For the best defense available, do not hesitate to contact the skilled lawyers at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC today.

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