There is no universal statute of limitations for perjury, since every jurisdiction has the freedom to set its own — and some have none at all. In the United States the time period is typically five years for federal court matters, but there is wide variance for civil disputes, most of which happen at the state level. A lot depends on how serious the perjury was, what it involved, and where it happened. Some countries, including Australia and the United Kingdom, do not have any sort of statute of limitations for most perjury cases. Anyone who is concerned about a specific act of perjury should usually talk to a lawyer who knows the local laws.
Types of Perjury
Some statutes are very broad, covering almost every type of perjury, but in many cases how long the statute runs depends at least in part on the nature of the crime. The most serious forms of perjury usually happen in the courtroom where witnesses or parties give false testimony; this is particularly problematic in criminal matters where convictions hang in the balance. It can happen in many different ways, though. Omitting information on a tax return, lying in a written, signed document, and embellishing the truth in any sort of sworn statement are other examples.
Differences by Jurisdiction
Someone who lies under oath might be charged with perjury.
Perjury is considered a crime in most places, but how different legal systems treat it varies widely. In the majority of locations within the United States, including at the federal level, the statute of limitations for perjury is five years. This means that, from the time in which the perjury is thought to have occurred, the individual who is accused of lying under oath can be charged and tried only for the next five years. Once more time than this passes, the individual is usually immune from prosecution.
Different courts and localities usually have the power to make their own rules and can draw distinctions between criminal and civil cases, for instance, or between testimony made in person and statements sworn in writing. In Canada the statute of limitations varies by province and by court, though five years is the general standard. In both the United Kingdom and Australia, however, there are generally no restrictions on bringing perjury cases, no matter how much time has passed.
Perjury charges are rarely filed unless the lie could change the outcome of the case.
Importance of Finality
One of the main reasons jurisdictions put time restrictions on these sorts of cases is in order to ensure that decisions or adjudications are final. Without a statute of limitations, people might never be able to fully move on with their lives and business dealings with the confidence that they wouldn't be sued for actions that happened in the distant past. There is also an argument that, if perjury wasn’t noticed within five years, the case should be dropped because it couldn’t be that important or critical. Some laws use these sorts of statutes as a way to discourage lawyers and others from digging up past wrongs far into the future.
After too much time has passed there might also be questions of information freshness, as witnesses involved with the case may have moved on or scattered. Particularly when it comes to testimonial perjury, putting together a new action — either for the prosecution or defense — can be difficult since people may no longer remember events accurately and other forms of evidence may be lost or destroyed. Some lawmakers believe that it could be unfair to prosecute someone for perjury long after the crime was thought to be committed, since he or she may no longer be able to collect sufficient evidence to prove innocence.
Importance of Counsel
It’s usually really important for anyone curious about specific statutes to do research about their jurisdiction’s rules, or to talk with an attorney who is familiar with court proceedings there. Five years is a general benchmark for countries and regions that uses a statute of limitation for perjury, but there are often differences that depend on geographic location, type of perjury, and general setting. As with many things in the law there are usually a number of exceptions, and a lot depends on the specifics of the case at hand.