Tougher Sentences for Defendants Who Lie?

Not every defendant who lies in court faces the judge's wrath, but lying usually creates a risk of stiffer punishment.

Judges consider many factors when determining the sentence for a convicted defendant. They contemplate factors relating to the crime (such as the severity of any injury the defendant caused) and the defendant (like previous convictions and expression of remorse). They can also weigh the defendant’s conduct during court proceedings. This conduct is particularly relevant when the defendant testified or spoke up in the proceedings leading to the conviction.

Lying in Court

Defendants have the right to be silent—and the right to testify. But once they do testify, judges in most states and in federal court can hold any perceived lies against them at sentencing. It doesn’t matter that the defendant hasn’t been tried and convicted for perjury relating to those lies.

Many courts are of the view that it’s okay to increase punishment not because of dishonesty itself, but because of what that dishonesty reveals about the defendant’s prospects for rehabilitation (to become a productive member of society). Regardless of how they couch it though, judges often find ways to punish defendants who appear to have lied. For example, courts have given harsher sentences than they otherwise would have in the following circumstances:

  • The judge found that the defendant committed perjury at a pretrial hearing with implausible stories that directly refuted credible police-officer testimony. (U.S. v. Gonzalez, 609 F.3d 13 (1st Cir. 2010).)
  • Among other misrepresentations, the defendant told the judge that he had no criminal record when he had an outstanding warrant for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and assaulting a police officer. (U.S. v. Malki, 609 F.3d 503 (2d Cir. 2010).)
  • The court found that, while testifying at trial, the defendant lied about the central issue in the case: whether he conspired with a codefendant to obtain cocaine. (U.S. v. Spagnola, 632 F.3d 981 (7th Cir. 2011).)

Consult a Lawyer

Before you speak up in court, even if you aren’t under oath, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Only such an attorney can safeguard your rights while advising you of the risks and rewards of testifying or otherwise making representations to a court.

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