SWINDLE COLUMN: Bearing False Witness
Published 5:56 pm Tuesday, December 28, 2021
In Georgia, and elsewhere, crime victims should always be given justice. I have been a victim of a residential burglary. I never knew the feeling of insecurity in my home until that incident. While I am a criminal defense attorney, I was trained from a young age to respect what an alleged victim may be going through. Unfortunately, some people use the criminal justice system for dark motives that are primarily launched by dishonesty.
The consequences are always devastating and widespread; both in and out of court. Summer – 2014 – A 25 year old woman accuses her boyfriend of a number of sex crimes. He is arrested, loses his job, his children, and his freedom. For 11 months, he sits in a jail cell facing three life sentences. Spring – 2015 – The man’s girlfriend goes to the District Attorney’s Office with a message. Her boyfriend never touched her. She was just angry and created a story that would punish him by incarceration.
When the DA heard this, she was outraged. The worst fear of most prosecutors is being involved in convicting an innocent person. The woman confidently walked out of the office until she felt the cold handcuffs tighten around her wrists. Because of her false accusation, she was arrested and spent five years in the state penitentiary for false imprisonment and other crimes. When her boyfriend was finally released, he received one piece of paper; an order dismissing the case. While free, his children were estranged, he could not find work, his old friends, family, or justice. He did not even receive an apology. While this extreme is a rare occurrence, it is shocking how many innocent people are arrested primarily based on the malice of a dishonest person.
The sad part is that many of these cases involve dishonest family members with dark, yet oftentimes obvious motives. The time has come to prosecute those who bear false witness. While there are six or seven felonies that apply in most circumstances, the primary way that this is done is to charge a person with perjury when there is probable cause to do so. In Georgia, the crime of perjury is outlined in O.C.G.A. 16-10-70 which provides:
(a) A person to whom a lawful oath or affirmation has been administered commits the offense of perjury when, in a judicial proceeding, he knowingly and willfully makes a false statement material to the issue or point in question.
(b) A person convicted of the offense of perjury shall be punished by a fine of not more than $1,000.00 or by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than ten years, or both. A person convicted of the offense of perjury that was a cause of another’s being imprisoned shall be sentenced to a term not to exceed the sentence provided for the crime for which the other person was convicted.
A person convicted of the offense of perjury that was a cause of another’s being punished by death shall be punished by life imprisonment. As you can see, the law takes the act of bearing false witness rather seriously.
However, you may be surprised to learn that perjury prosecutions are rare in our state. I could probably count on two hands the number of state perjury prosecutions I have seen in over the past two decades.
Bearing false witness in a criminal case is serious business and should be addressed more often than it is. There are men and women behind bars today based on perjured testimony of witnesses at trial.
A greater injustice does not exist. The General Assembly and our next governor must address this with vigorous action.