Being deceptive can damage your personal and professional reputation, but it can also lead to charges filed against you if you lie under certain circumstances. The offense of perjury, for example, criminalizes false statements made under oath.
Perjury, a crime against justice, is a serious offense in Washington. A person commits perjury in the first degree if, in any official proceeding, they make a materially false statement under oath and they know that the statement is false. Perjury in the second degree occurs if a person knowingly makes a materially false statement under oath under the terms of a contract of insurance or with the intent to mislead a public servant in the performance of their duties.
Another lesser offense (gross misdemeanor) recognized in Washington is false swearing which is committed if an individual makes a false statement which they know is false under oath or authorized by law.
Washington Perjury Laws: A Summary
While it's significant to be aware of every word in each statute, it can't hurt to have an explanation of the law written in relatable terms and common phrases. The chart below provides you with a helpful summary of perjury laws in Washington.
Washington Revised Code:
- Section 9A:72.020 (perjury in the first degree)
- Section 9A:72.030 (perjury in the second degree)
- Section 9A:72.040 (false swearing)
- Section 9A:72.050 (perjury and false swearing-inconsistent statements)
- Section 9A:72.060 (perjury and false swearing-retraction)
Elements of the Crime
Materially False Statement
An individual makes a false statement when they intended to deceive and know that the statement is untrue; if the statement is untrue due to memory lapse or mistake, then it's not perjury. The statement must be regarding a material issue that can affect the outcome of the proceeding. For example, if the statement tends to prove or disprove a significant fact.
An oath that is taken prior to court testimony is the quintessential example of the oath sufficient to meet this requirement. However, other examples include statements made under oath in a deposition or statements made in conjunction with an affidavit.
Possible Penalties and Sentencing
- The actual penalties will depend on the specific facts of the case and are determined by the Sentencing Reform Act and state guidelines.
- Perjury in the first degree is punishable by incarceration for up to 10 years and fines up to $20,000.
- Perjury in the second degree is punishable by incarceration for up to 5 years and fines up to $10,000.
- False swearing is punishable by up to 364 days in jail, fines up to $5,000.
Common defenses to perjury include:
- Defendant believed the truth of the statement.
- The statement was not false.
- The statement didn't concern a material issue.
Note: It is not a valid defense for perjury and false swearing that the oath was administered or taken in an irregular manner or that the person administering the oath lacked authority.
There is no conviction of perjury or false swearing if the defendant retracts the false statement:
- During the same proceeding in which it was made,
- Before it's clear that the falsity is or will be exposed, and
- Before the falsity substantially affects the proceeding.
Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
Washington Perjury Laws: Related Resources
Get Help with Your Perjury Case from a Washington Attorney
If you've been accused of violating Washington's perjury laws, then you could be facing incarceration and costly fines, in addition to the damage that a conviction will cause your reputation. With so much at stake, you should get help from a skilled criminal defense attorney who can help you determine whether the perjury laws even apply to your situation and prepare an effective defense on your behalf.