I refused to take the stand because I felt intimidated by my ex-husband; did I commit perjury?

Question: I was called to testify in a domestic violence trial against my ex-husband. He had recently told our son that if I ever testified against him, he would tell the family court that I am an unfit parent because I'm an alcoholic (I am in recovery and sober for 5 years). He never threatened me directly, but I was intimidated and refused to take the stand against him. Did I commit perjury? Did my husband break the law?

Answer: Perjury occurs only if a witness intentionally tells a lie after taking an oath to tell the truth in a proceeding. Because you didn’t testify at all, you didn’t testify falsely under oath. As a result, you didn’t commit perjury.

As for your ex-husband, because you didn’t commit perjury, he can’t be charged with suborning perjury, either. Suborning perjury takes place only when an actual perjury (intentionally false testimony under oath) occurs.

But that’s not the end of the story. Because he affected your willingness to testify and possibly affected the outcome of a family court proceeding, he may have committed other offenses, such as witness tampering. And, if he is telling third-parties that you are an unfit parent, he may be damaging your reputation with a falsehood, which might amount to defamation. You may be able to sue him in a civil action for defamation and you should talk to a lawyer to find out if you have a case.

By the way, if you had decided to take the stand and had testified falsely because of your ex-husband’s threats, you would have committed perjury. And, your ex-husband would have suborned that perjury through his threats. In those circumstances, you could have been charged with perjury once the false testimony was discovered. Even though your ex-husband didnot threaten you directly or with physical violence, he could have been charged with suborning perjury if you had testified falsely because of his threats.

To learn more about perjury and suborning perjury, see Perjury and Suborning Perjury.

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