If you are a witness or a defendant in a criminal matter in a metro-NY court you should always consult with a NY criminal defense attorney before talking with law enforcement. In fact, you should always be prepared to testify in the event that you are called to do so. Even if you are not a target of a Grand Jury investigation or a case in Criminal or Supreme Court, an innocent mistake or an inconsistency in your testimony may have serious ramifications. The last thing you need is the prosecution to charge you with Perjury. Consulting with criminal defense attorneys, such as the former Manhattan prosecutors at Saland Law PC, is an investment in your time that will give you both a piece of mind and likely steer you clear of a Perjury charge.
Generally, Perjury occurs if you swear falsely. If you do so, you may be charged with a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of one year in jail. For the purpose of this entry, however, we will address Perjury in the context of the court room or Grand Jury. In such a situation, you may be charged with Perjury in the First Degree. A person is guilty of Perjury in the First Degree when he or she swears falsely and when his or her false statement (a) consists of testimony, and (b) is material to the action, proceeding or matter in which it is made. Perjury in the First Degree is a “D” felony punishable by up to seven years in state prison.
As I have stated on many entries, a criminal statute, while clear on its face, always has hidden or complex definitions. Perjury is no exception. So, what does it mean to be “material to the action” for the purpose of understanding each element of this crime?
Citing the Court of Appeals in People v. Davis, 53 N.Y.2d 164 (1981):
“To be material,the statement need not prove directly the fact in issue; it is sufficient if it is ‘circumstantially material or tends to support and give credit to the witness in respect to the main fact’ ( Wood v. People, 59 N.Y. 117, 123). Thus a statement that ‘reflect[s] on the matter under consideration’ ( People v. Stanard, 42 N.Y.2d 74, 80, 396 N.Y.S.2d 825, 365 N.E.2d 857), even if only as to the witness’ credibility (see People v. Samuels, 284 N.Y. 410, 414, 31 N.E.2d 753; People v. Courtney, 94 N.Y. 490), is material for purposes of supporting a perjury charge. Put another way, the test of materiality may be said to be ‘whether the false testimony has the natural effect or tendency to impede, influence or dissuade the grand jury from pursuing its investigation’ ( United States v. Stone, 2 Cir., 429 F.2d 138, 140; United States v. Carson, 2 Cir., 464 F.2d 424, cert. den. 409 U.S. 949, 93 S.Ct. 268, 34 L.Ed.2d 219).
In “normal” terms, something may be “material” if it impacts the credibility of the person testifying in relation the the issue that is being addressed at trial or in the Grand Jury. Simply put, as stated above, if you make a false statement that misleads or impedes the jury…you may be charged with this crime.
Despite the harsh tone of the statute, there are affirmative defenses to Perjury that may be applicable to your case (I will discuss these in a later entry). Moreover, there are other definitions in the statute that need to be examined to determine if you in fact perpetrated this crime. Obviously, because you want to avoid even the possibility of facing this charge, contact Saland Law PC if you are called as a witness before a court or Grand Jury. Educating and preparing yourself is the best way to avoid this or any other possible criminal charges.