The crime of perjury in North Carolina is a serious one. A person convicted of perjury can receive a punishment of months or even years in prison. If you have been charged with perjury, contact Mr. Rosensteel so that he can help you navigate the legal process. As an experienced defense attorney, he can determine how the law applies to the facts of your case and decide the best course of action for you.
To find a person guilty of perjury, the following elements must be proven:
- the person made a false statement under oath.
- the person acted willfully and corruptly, meaning that the statement was made knowingly, willfully and designedly.
- the statement was made in a proceeding in a court of competent jurisdiction or was made concerning a matter wherein the affiant is required by law to be sworn.
- the statement was made as to some matter material to the issue or point in question.
A person who is found guilty of perjury commits a Class F felony. North Carolina law provides that a person who commits a Class F felony must be sentenced to punishment between 10 and 41 months, depending on prior convictions. A person with no prior convictions may receive intermediate punishment, but any person convicted of a Class F felony may receive active jail time.
North Carolina law “requires that the falsity of the oath be established by the testimony of at least two witnesses, or from the testimony of one witness, along with corroborating circumstances.” It is not possible to prove the false statement through only circumstantial evidence. The rationale behind this requirement is “to afford the defendant a greater protection against the chance of unjust conviction than is ordinarily afforded in prosecuting for crime.”
Although we might think that the line between true and false is a clear one, the question arises about what happens when a person hedges their answer by using phrases such as “I don’t think so” and “I don’t recall saying that.” North Carolina courts have held that when a person has previously made a direct answer such as “No, I didn’t say that,” the subsequent use of a hedging statement such as “I don’t recall saying that” as a response to the second asking of the question does not prevent the testimony from being perjurious.
Most people know that a person who testifies in court takes an oath to tell the truth, but that is just one example of a situation in which a false statement can constitute perjury. In addition to false statements made under oath in court, false statements made under oath in a deposition and false statements sworn to or affirmed in an affidavit can also constitute perjury.
Material False Statement
For a person to commit perjury, the false statement must be material to an issue or point in question. North Carolina courts have explained that “[t]he false statement must be so connected with the fact directly in issue as to have a legitimate tendency to prove or disprove such fact.”
Under the Constitution, a criminal conviction requires that a jury determine that a defendant is guilty of every element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Because the materiality of the false statement is an element of the crime of perjury, a person being prosecuted for perjury has a Constitutional right to have a jury determine the materiality of the false statement.
The materiality of the false statement can depend not only on the matter at issue but also on the type of proceeding. For example, because a grand jury has a wide-ranging investigative function, the materiality of statements is more broadly construed. The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that
Materiality of statements made in a grand jury investigation may more readily appear than that of similar evidence offered on an issue of civil or criminal litigation, since the purpose of the investigation is to get at facts which will enable the grand jury to determine whether formal charges should be made against someone rather than prove matters directly at issue.
Therefore, if a false statement before a grand jury has the effect of influencing or dissuading the grand jury from pursuing an investigation, the statement is material.
Because intent goes to a person’s mental state, there is rarely direct evidence that a person acted with the requisite intent or that the person knowingly, willfully and designedly made a false statement. Intent is often proven by circumstantial evidence, meaning that the person’s intent is inferred from the surrounding facts and circumstances,
For example, facts showing that a fiduciary made a false statement in an accounting of an estate, which false statement covered up the fiduciary’s embezzlement from the estate, are sufficient to infer that the fiduciary knowingly, willfully and designedly made the false statement. Another example of circumstantial evidence from which the requisite intent can be inferred is where a person misstates his partial ownership of certain property on an affidavit of indigency which aids a court in determining whether a person qualifies for a court-appointed attorney based on lack of income and assets. In that case, even if the person argues that the misstatement was not intentional, the intent can be inferred through evidence of the person’s other motivations, such as the fact that disclosure of the partial ownership would have affected the person’s obligation to pay child support, as well as his qualification for the court-appointed attorney.
Subornation of Perjury
In North Carolina, it is not only a crime for a person to commit perjury himself, it is also a crime for a person to procure another person to commit perjury. This is known as subornation of perjury. To prove that a person committed subornation of perjury, the following elements must be shown:
- the person willfully procured or induced another person to commit perjury.
- the other person did commit perjury.
A person who commits subornation of perjury is guilty of a Class I felony. North Carolina law provides that a person who commits a Class I felony must receive a sentence between 3 and 12 months, depending on the person’s prior convictions. A person with no prior convictions must receive a community punishment, but the court is permitted to sentence a person with prior convictions to active jail time.
If you have been charged with perjury, contact an attorney at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC (704) 714-1450, to discuss your options.