A Brief Look at Perjury Prosecutions: Who and What Counts and Who and What Doesn’t

Posted on October 1, 2014

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Here are two recent headlines that caught my eye: “Former Judge Charged with Perjury for Allegedly ‘Fixing’ DUI Case” and “State [Senator] Resigns over Perjury Conviction.”

Here are the facts:

A former Pennsylvania judge is facing criminal charges for allegedly improperly dropping a DUI case brought against a prosecutor’s nephew.

And:

[A California state senator] submitted his resignation Monday after he was sentenced last week to three months in jail for lying about where he lived when he ran for office.

The judge charged with perjury was a 25-year veteran. His defense against accusations of ticket-fixing were determined “not credible” by a grand jury. The prosecutor whose nephew he’s alleged to have fixed the ticket for has since become a judge herself.

The senator, called a “career politician” by the judge who determined him no longer eligible to hold office, was suspended with pay (and jailed for three months). A petition has been filed by the Judicial Conduct Board of Pennsylvania against the judge who was charged with perjury seeking his suspension from “any future judicial assignments and to bar him from being granted senior status through the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.”

Recognize that in these rare instances when perjury statutes are enforced, the motive is political impression management (government face-saving). Everyday claimants who lie to judges are never charged at all, because the victims of their lies (moms, dads, retirees, veterans, engineers, stockbrokers, cops, therapists, teachers, etc.) don’t rate.

They’re nameless and isolated, so they don’t signify.

It’s worthy of remark that the above-referenced senator was reelected even after he was charged with defrauding the public by lying about his residency status. It didn’t affect anyone; no one cared. In contrast, lies that may trash citizen’s lives—for example, false allegations of abuse made on restraining orders or in domestic violence prosecutions—are never acknowledged by judges, let alone punished.

The justice system would seem to have a very arbitrary definition of what justice is—or a very convenient one.

It errs, besides, in believing that only the actions of judges and politicians like those cited in the stories that inspired this post “affect everyone.” The referenced judge and senator may have acted improperly, but their actions didn’t negatively impact anyone; they just made government look bad.

They tarnished its appearance of uprightness and propriety.

The court’s making the standard of justice no certain standard at all is what actually impacts everyone…and makes government look a whole lot worse in the eyes of a whole lot more people.

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