I felt threatened by the suspect, so I lied on the stand: can I be charged with a crime?

Question: The night before I was to supposed to testify about a robbery I witnessed, someone I don't know texted me a photo of my young daughter walking home from school that day. I was so scared that I lied on the stand and said I didn't see the robber in the courtroom. Can I be charged with a crime?

Answer: That is a horrible situation and what you did is understandable, but it is also perjury, because you knowingly lied under oath. But, if the person who sent you the text did so in order to scare you so that you would lie on the stand (and thus help the defendant), that person suborned perjury even though no explicit threat was made.

Suborning perjury (attempting to get someone to testify falsely) can be based on an implied threat, and the threat does not need to be a threat of physical violence. The situation you describe certainly suggests that the defendant may have been involved in a scheme to intimidate you and force you to testify falsely. That would be enough to charge the texter with suborning perjury.

For more information on suborning perjury, see Suborning Perjury.

There’s another twist to the consequence of testifying falsely as you did. By lying under oath at a criminal trial in a way that could help the defendant, you could be charged as an accessory to the crime! This is because your false testimony could aid the defendant in avoiding conviction for the crime. Of course, the implied threat that caused you to do so would be a significant factor to be considered by the court if you were charged as an accessory.

In addition, the person who texted the photo to you, in addition to suborning perjury, also may have committed other offenses (for example, witness tampering or extortion).

You need to talk to a criminal defense lawyer to find out all the possible repercussions of your testimony. You need to know how best to protect yourself. Remember, your conversations with your lawyer will be privileged and confidential, as long as you conduct them in a private, non-public place and manner (such as the lawyer’s office).

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