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This answer claims that you are required to correct an accidental false statement made under oath:

When you become aware that a statement made under oath was false (assuming such a statement was made), then in maintaining the falsehood, that would be intentional deceit.

Is this true? In particular, could an accidental false statement (which, being accidental, would not be perjury) become "upgraded" to a perjury once the person realizes it to be wrong?

I searched around a bit, but could not find any mention that there is a duty to correct an accidental mistake once you become aware of it.


I'm particularly interested in answers about the USA or Germany, but general answers are also fine.

  • Thank you for your helpful answer on my question. I retracted my upvote and deleted the question because I was asked by my boss to do so. But I will remember you for upvotes in the future. You have made your reputation with me. – Libra Sep 1 '16 at 15:50
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I have not found a case directly on point, but there is a case in the right neighborhood.

In Flordia v. Carter 364 So. 2d 1249, Carter was charged with perjury for making a false statement under oath. He recanted his testimony in a letter to the defense attorney the next day. Subsequently he was charged with perjury: the trial judge dismissed the case based on his having recanted (which is a defense to perjury). The judge said (quoted in the appeal below and citing a relevant precedent Brannen v. Florida 114 So. 429)

It matters not whether Carter knew his original testimony was false or whether he was merely mistaken. "The law encourages the correction of erroneous and even intentionally false statements on the part of a witness, and perjury will not be predicated upon such statements when the witness, before the submission of the case, fully corrects his testimony."

The lower appeals court rejected the trial court's dismissal, saying

Recantation is a defense to an allegation of perjury only where there is an acknowledgement of the falsity of the original sworn statement, a voluntary retraction of that statement, and a new statement which discloses the true facts. It is not a viable defense where the perjured testimony has substantially affected the proceeding or it has become manifest that such falsity has been or will be exposed. Otherwise, one could rest on his lie, allowing it to substantially affect a proceeding, and never retract unless the falsity had been exposed. This would provide no inducement or encouragement to tell the truth.

That court basically felt it was based on the threat of being discovered, and felt that a particular state statute had taken away the recantation defense, so they reinstated the charge.

The appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, Carter v. Florida 384 So. 2d 1255 basically declared that the appeals court was wrong about the statute (they officially held that recantation is a defense to perjury). They concluded that Carter gained nothing by recanting (that was a distinguishing feature in a precedent that the lower court favored).

The dissent in this decision opined that

It may be that the false deposition testimony by Dr. Carter was inadvertent and without criminal intent.... These, however, are factual issues and should be resolved by a jury rather than by the trial court on a motion to dismiss.

What unifies all opinions on the matter is that a false statement made under oath must be recanted. The reason why Carter was not convicted was that he (possibly) was unaware that his testimony was false and he did recant when he became aware of the facts.

  • 1
    Thanks, interesting cases. However, as far as I see, they do not directly address my question, namely whether there is a duty to correct an accidental mistake. They mainly center on a) whether recanting a deliberate misstatement is a defense to perjury , and b) on whether the court (or a jury) has authority to decide whether a msistatement was intentional. The question of whether Carter had was liable for not correcting his statement never arose, because he already had. – sleske Aug 11 '16 at 8:05

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