false swearing | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Law

False swearing refers to the criminal offense of intentionally making a false statement under oath or affirmation.

False swearing is when an individual intentionally lies while under oath or affirmation. You’ll often see this happening in courts, during depositions, or when someone is filling out official government forms. Now, let’s dive deeper into this complex legal concept.

Understanding False Swearing

This offense is a type of perjury, but not every false swearing is perjury. Sounds confusing? Let’s make it simple. For a statement to be considered perjury, it must be materially significant to the case or matter at hand. However, false swearing can occur even if the falsehood isn’t directly related to the central issues of a legal proceeding or a form’s content.

The Components of the Offense

Let’s talk about what makes this a crime. Firstly, there’s the act of making a false statement. This can be an outright lie or just omitting a crucial piece of information. Secondly, it’s important that the person knows they’re lying. If they genuinely believe what they’re saying, it isn’t false swearing.

Thirdly, the false statement must be made under oath or affirmation. This means that the person has formally sworn to tell the truth, usually before a judge, notary, or other official. Lastly, the intent to deceive is an essential element of this crime.

False Swearing in Various Contexts

This offense can appear in several scenarios. One of the most common is within a courtroom, during a trial or hearing. Here, witnesses and parties involved swear an oath to tell the truth. If they don’t, they could be charged with this crime.

Another common scenario is during a deposition. A deposition is an official sworn statement, usually taken before a trial. Just like in a courtroom, any lies told during this process could constitute an offense.

Lastly, government forms often require an oath or affirmation. For example, if you’ve ever applied for a passport, you’ve probably noticed that there’s a section where you have to affirm that all information you provided is true. Lying on these forms can lead to a charge of false swearing.

Model Penal Code Elements

The Model Penal Code (MPC), a key reference point in criminal law, provides clear guidelines for various offenses, including false swearing. Understanding the elements of false swearing under the MPC helps define the crime.

Actus Reus and Mens Rea

To be convicted of this offense under the MPC, two fundamental components must be proven: actus reus (the guilty act) and mens rea (the guilty mind).

For actus reus, the individual must make a false statement either orally or in writing. The false statement is often a lie but can also be a deliberate omission of material information. This means a crucial fact is knowingly left out, resulting in a false representation of the truth.

The mens rea element requires proof that the individual made the false statement intentionally or knowingly. If the individual genuinely believed the information was true, even if it was not, the mens rea would not be met. Therefore, it’s not considered false swearing under the MPC.

Under Oath or Affirmation

The act of false swearing must occur while the person is under oath or affirmation. This refers to a formal promise to tell the truth, made before an official like a judge or a notary public.

Material Falsehood

Under the MPC, the false statement must be material, meaning it has the potential to affect the outcome of a proceeding or decision. Unlike some jurisdictions, immaterial falsehoods do not qualify as false swearing under the MPC.

False Swearing vs. Perjury

While similar, false swearing and perjury are distinct under the MPC. Perjury involves a false statement made during an official proceeding, while false swearing can occur outside of such proceedings.

In sum, this offense involves intentionally making a material false statement under oath or affirmation. The crime carries significant legal consequences and undermines the integrity of our legal and administrative systems.

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 05/19/2023

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.