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Perjury: it doesn’t pay to lie in court

Experts agree that perjury is a relatively common phenomenon. The reality is undoubtedly many times greater than the number of people actually convicted of this crime. Who commits the crime of perjury and on what occasion? What are the limits of self-defence in court? And which celebrities have been implicated in perjury?

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Definition of perjury

TheCriminal Codedefines what perjury is . According to the Code, it can be committed by a witness who , before a court, an international judicial body, a judicial commissioner, a law enforcement authority or a committee of inquiry of the Chamber of Deputies, lies about a circumstance that is of material importance for the proceedings. The same effect shall apply to conduct where a witness conceals such a material circumstance.

The penalty may be imprisonment for six months to three years, or two years to ten years if substantial damage is caused or if the damage is to the employment or family of another. Like a witness, an expert witness is also criminallyliable for giving a false expert opinion. Incidentally, this is a joint offence of “Perjury and false expert report”. In reality, however, only a minimum of those convicted of this offence end up in prison. The typical sentence is more likely to be probation.

The offence of perjury cannot therefore primarily apply to the accused, for whom, on the contrary, the presumption of impossibility of compelling him to testify or confess to the offence applies, as also enshrined in the Code of Criminal Procedure. Of course, even the accused or the accused cannot say whatever he or she wishes in criminal proceedings, as will be mentioned below.

Tip: Have you or someone close to you been prosecuted? It may just be a mistake and there may not be a conviction at all, but it is still good to know your rights and what principles law enforcement must follow to preserve your rights.

Famous celebrities also sometimes bear false witness

Perhaps the most famous example of perjury in the Czech environment is the case of former Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas, who was convicted of perjury by a criminal warrant. As part of the criminal order, he was given a suspended prison sentence of one year and a fine of CZK 100,000. In the case of abuse of Military Intelligence, he had twice committed perjury in court to protect his former cabinet director, now his wife, Jan Nečasová (formerly Nagyová). However, there were apparently procedural errors in the entire case, so it is still pending. The question of guilt in relation to perjury must be assessed by theprosecuting authorities entirely independently, so it is not sufficient to base the decision on other criminal proceedings and the evidence within them. However, according to media reports, this did not happen in the case of Petr Nečas. Statements made in other criminal proceedings can be read as documentary evidence and cannot be used as direct evidence in the new proceedings. New evidence should then be taken alongside it.

If a defence is filed in the case, the criminal warrant is quashed and a main trial should be ordered to hear the case.

In neighbouring Austria, high-ranking politicians also face charges of perjury. Ex-Chancellor Kurz was given a suspended eight-month prison sentence for perjury. He is alleged to have committed the offence when he significantly downplayed his role in the appointment of the supervisory board of the major state investment company ÖBAG in a parliamentary inquiry committee. Kurz was charged with several offences, but acquitted on other counts. Kurz nevertheless disagrees with the court’ s verdict and has appealed against it.

Representation of the accused in criminal proceedings

Were you charged and prosecuted? The stakes are really high and it doesn’t pay to go through the criminal process without consulting an attorney.

As for the situations in which perjury most often occurs, these are usually statements by friends of the accused who were present when the crime was committed and are afraid that they will aggravate the accused by their truthful testimony. Therefore, they prefer to embellish it or change it completely from reality. In the case of forensic experts, false expert reports are allegedly most often related to real estate price estimates. However, many cases do not even make it to court.

Tip: According to available statistics, only a few hundred cases (usually between two and three hundred defendants) of the crime of perjury and false expert opinion are brought before Czech courts each year. However, as the name of the offence suggests, this includes cases of bribed or otherwise influenced expert witnesses, so there will actually be even fewer false statements.

What is the difference between perjury and false accusation?

While perjury is very often aimed at making light of the case and exonerating the defendant, false accusation is when the perpetrator knowingly and falsely accuses another person of having committed a crime. However, there may also be a situation where, in the context of perjury, a false accusation is made at the same time.

This offence is punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment. If the perpetrator intentionally attempts to cause another person to be prosecuted, the maximum penalty is increased to three years. However, the offender faces a much more severe penalty if he commits a false accusation:

  • through the press, film, radio, television, publicly accessible computer network,
  • to seriously damage another’s employment, disrupt his family relationships,
  • to cover up his or her own offence; or
  • cause damage amounting to at least CZK 1 000 000.

In these cases, the penalties are higher, ranging from 2 to 8 years. If the damage caused is at least CZK 10 million, the penalty can be up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Another similar act is the offence of defamation, but this is not necessarily an accusation of another criminal offence, but the communication of a lie that may significantly harm the victim. For example, if we spread the word that he has been treated in a psychiatric hospital for a serious mental illness, or that he is a very promiscuous person who cheats on his wife and suffers from a venereal disease, etc.

In practice, we often find that our clients face fears of being sanctioned because they have made false accusations before filing a criminal complaint against another person. It is therefore important to understand that there is a fundamental difference between making a false accusation and failing to file a criminal complaint. As a whistleblower,you are not responsible for correctly assessing whether a crime actually occurred and who is responsible.

Criminal liability for making a false accusationwould only arise when you knowingly liedand the police were subsequently able to prove that you made the false accusation, for example, because of a dispute with the perpetrator you denounce.

Tip: Up to two-thirds of criminal reports are dropped. So what is the correct procedure for filing a criminal complaint, who can file it, and what three things to look out for before doing so? We’ll address that in our separate article.

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Representation of the accused in criminal proceedings

Were you charged and prosecuted? The stakes are really high and it doesn’t pay to go through the criminal process without consulting an attorney.

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Author of the article

JUDr. Ondřej Preuss, Ph.D.

Ondřej is the attorney who came up with the idea of providing legal services online. He's been earning his living through legal services for more than 10 years. He especially likes to help clients who may have given up hope in solving their legal issues at work, for example with real estate transfers or copyright licenses.

  • Law, Ph.D, Pf UK in Prague
  • Law, L’université Nancy-II, Nancy
  • Law, Master’s degree (Mgr.), Pf UK in Prague
  • International Territorial Studies (Bc.), FSV UK in Prague

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