A person is guilty of the Class A misdemeanor of Perjury in the Third Degree when he intentionally makes a false statement which he does not believe to be true while giving testimony or while under oath in a written instrument (PL 210.05). The crime can be elevated to a felony when the false statement is material to the action, proceeding or matter involved (PLs 210.10 and 210.15). In a nutshell, the relevance or importance of the false statement determines the seriousness of the crime charged. Notably, if a person makes an intentionally false statement while testifying, he can possibly escape criminal liability by retracting the statement before the statement materially affects the proceeding and beforeit becomes manifest that its falsity was or would be exposed (PL 210.25).

The prosecution of these cases does not necessarily require the law enforcement officer or prosecutor to determine which sworn statement was false. Indeed, where a witness has made two logically irreconcilable statements under oath, a prosecutor can seek an indictment that simply sets forth the two irreconcilable statements (PL 210.20).

Another important charge in this chapter is entitled Making a Punishable False Written Statement. This criminal charge, although rarely prosecuted, is used as a deterrent to the knowing or intentionally false reporting of crimes. Indeed, crime victims or witnesses that have signed supporting depositions or criminal complaints have probably signed below a written warning that reads, “False statements made herein are punishable as a Class A misdemeanor pursuant to PL Section 210.45.”

Key Penal Law Provisions:

  • Perjury in the third degree, P..L. 210.05, a class A misdemeanor
  • Perjury in the second degree, PL 210.10, a class E felony
  • Perjury in the first degree, PL 210.15, a class D felony
  • Making a punishable false written statement, PL 210.45, a class A misdemeanor