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Should Perjury Laws Always be Enforced?

May 29th, 2014 at 7:15 am

Chicago criminal defense attorney, Christopher M. Cosley, Cook County rape case, criminal caes, perjury laws, perjury prosecutionIn criminal cases, prosecutors generally offer numerous types of evidence in order to prove their case in court. One type of evidence is the testimony of witnesses to or victims of the crime in question, who are sworn in prior to testifying, which symbolizes their promise to be truthful in their testimony.

However, such truthfulness is not always the case. Illinois, along with other states, has perjury laws for the purpose of deterring witnesses from providing false testimony as well as providing a means of punishment for those who decide to lie on the witness stand. However, a recent news article examines whether that law should be enforced in every situation.

Seeking the Truth

While some may argue the purpose of perjury being considered a crime is to maintain truthfulness within the court system, others say there are situations where it may prevent the truth from being told. According to the Illinois law, it is also considered perjury if a person admits that his or her earlier testimony was a lie, even if the witness testified years ago. This produces a problem by discouraging people to come forward to correct an injustice that may have occurred from false testimony given under oath. If they do so, they risk going to prison.

Declining to Prosecute

In a well-known rape case from Cook County in the 1980s, the victim came forward and admitted to lying years earlier when she accused the defendant of raping her. DNA testing proved the defendant’s innocence, and he was eventually pardoned after spending years in jail. Even though the state’s attorney could have prosecuted the victim for perjury at the time, he decided against it, which some say was a good decision.

That case was not an isolated one. A new case in Cook County, involving the perjury prosecution of a Mr. Johnson, has the attention of prior esteemed judges and prosecutors because of the potential “chilling effect” the case could have on future witnesses who want to tell the truth about prior false testimony.

Mr. Johnson testified in the early 1990s in a double murder case against the defendants. In 2011, he admitted to lying during his testimony because telling the truth would have placed him and his family in danger. Despite his recantation, he was charged with perjury.

Concerns

Those judges and prosecutors against the perjury prosecution are warning the state’s attorney that the charges are contrary to the interests of justice. The next step may be to rewrite the perjury law in Illinois. The current law makes two contradictory statements a crime, even if the latter one is truthful and given after the three-year statute of limitations on perjury has expired.

Essentially, this criminalizes the act of righting a prior wrong. This undoubtedly affects the number of wrongly convicted defendants who are eventually exonerated and freed from prison because of witnesses who admitted to lying at trial. Perjury laws that reinforce the need for witnesses to take oaths seriously are necessary, but when the law goes too far and discourages recantation, the truth is stifled.

Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Illinois, it is important to discuss your case with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can advise you of your rights. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Christopher M. Cosley are prepared to assist in your defense. Contact us today for a consultation. We serve clients in Cook County as well as surrounding areas.

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