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What exactly is a perjury trap?

Many Indianapolis residents who have followed the political news in the last several months have probably heard the phrase "perjury trap." In common parlance, many people may believe it means that a prosecutor is trying to get a high-profile target in criminal trouble by asking difficult or embarrassing questions under oath.

Should the suspect then give erroneous testimony, even if the mistake seems innocent enough, the prosecutor will formally accuse the suspect of perjury and threaten him or her with a felony charge that could land him or her in prison.

In legal terms, a "perjury trap" is actually a legal defense to the charge of perjury. It is important to note that the defense has relatively little to do with the subject matter of the prosecutors' or investigators' questions. Generally speaking, if the information sought is relevant to the case, then their questions can be as hard to answer or as embarrassing as is necessary.

However, a defendant can claim a perjury trap as a type of entrapment defense in the right circumstances. Specifically, the defendant is going to have to show that the whole point of questioning in the first place was to induce the defendant to tell a lie. In other words, there was no other real purpose to a prosecutor's or officer's questioning; what mattered was only that the person being asked was not truthful.

Like other entrapment defenses, the perjury trap defenses has to be raised and proven by the accused. Although prosecutors have certain techniques to avoid this claim, it is still available to defendants who otherwise might face significant criminal sanctions.

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