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Perjury: Explained

Legal breakdown


  • Perjury is a federal crime and is against the law. [Merriam-Webster]

  • Perjury is voluntary act of knowingly making a false statement while under oath. [Merriam-Webster]

  • "Under oath" is making a formal promise to tell the truth in a court of law. [Merriam-Webster]

  • When someone is federally convicted of perjury, they can be sent to prison for up to five years. [Legal Information Institute] 

  • Perjury cases often consider what a person said, what they understood themselves to have said, and how they interpreted the question asked. [The Washington Post

  • There are two forms of perjury under federal law.

  • One section of U.S. criminal code is broad in saying it is a federal crime to knowingly make a false statement while under oath. [The New York Times]

  • The second perjury code is more specific and explains that it’s a federal crime to knowingly make a false statement about facts related to the case while under oath in federal court or in front of a federal grand jury. [The New York Times]


CIVICS: First amendment protections can be broad in protecting those who knowingly tell and spread lies in public. While under oath, those protections are removed.


Differences in conviction and punishment exist state-by-state.


LEGAL: Some prosecutors believe it can be difficult to win a perjury case. There is a high bar to present "proof of perjury." Cases often result in more questions than answers. [Vox]


  • Sept. 2018: Some lawmakers believed then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh perjured himself during his confirmation hearings. [Vox]

  • May 2019: Attorney General William Barr’s responses to questions about his meetings with then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller prompted perjury questions. [The Washington Post]
  • Jan. 2020: The impeachment of President Trump now moves to the Senate. Some believe Senate-leader Mitch McConnell may perjure himself by swearing an oath to do "do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws..." [The Boston Globe]


  • President Bill Clinton was impeached for perjury.
  • Dive into what exactly the United States criminal code says about perjury with the Legal Information Institute.
  • Should knowingly promoting lies as a politician be illegal? Why or why not?
  • Can felons vote? It depends on the state. Learn more here with The New York Times.​​​​​​​
  • What is a perjury trap? Is it illegal? Watch a breakdown from The Washington Post below.
Key Vocabulary