Perjury: Lying under oath in a court of law or criminal proceeding


Perjury is basically lying in court.  Perjury is officially defined as the willful act of swearing a false oath or affirmation to tell the truth concerning matters material to a judicial proceeding.  The act of perjury can be either spoken or written, but is most commonly committed as part of spoken testimony in a court case.

During court proceedings that involve witnesses, each witness that testifies must swear under oath that they will tell the honest truth. Oaths are taken during court in front of the judge and often in front of a jury. Witnesses are not forced or coerced to take the oath, but it is required. When a witness commits perjury, they falsely promise to tell the truth about matters which affect the outcome of the case.

What oath does a witness take?

The exact wording of the oath may vary from country to country, and even from state to state. Following is an example of the typical oath used in the United States: “Do you solemnly swear or affirm that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

The court bailiff usually swears in the witness and the witness usually places their hand on a bible as they agree to the oath.

What is the charge for committing the crime?

When a person is charged and convicted of perjury, they may face criminal charges in the form of a financial fine or, in more serious cases, may serve jail time. Each state has their own laws and penalties regarding this crime.

Additional Resources

Cornell University Law School – A legal website that provides additional information on perjury.

View other Legal Definitions.



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