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Review of federal and state perjury charges

Any Indianapolis resident who follows political and legal developments probably recognizes that perjury is a common accusation that gets thrown around in high profile controversies.

The reality, though, is that most Hoosiers have probably taken a legal oath or affirmation under penalty for perjury on several occasions in their lives, such as when they have filed their taxes or submitted a legal document.

To protect the integrity of the legal system, both Indiana law and, where applicable, federal law impose punishments, including a felony conviction and prison time, on those who, after taking such an oath or affirmation, then proceed to lie. The applicable charge is referred to as perjury.

At the federal level, a person who lies after taking an oath, either in a court proceeding or in some other official matter whether the federal government can and does administer an oath, can face up to five years in prison as well as a fine. To be convicted, the government must prove the person actually lied, that is willfully said or wrote something while at the time believing the statement false.

Also, the federal law has an exemption for might be called white lies, that is, misstatements on something that is not material to the reason an oath is being called for in the first place.

Indiana law also punishes perjury as a felony and, generally speaking, follows the federal definition of perjury. Interestingly, Indiana law also allows prosecution where a person makes inherently contradictory statements, that is, two things that cannot both be true at the same time.

Those accused of perjury, whether they are in the world of politics or business or just someone who is involved in a routine legal matter, face serious consequences. Moreover, these charges are sometimes not well-taken, as simply being wrong or mistaken, even while under oath, is not a crime.

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