Its often a joke that politicians say "I don't recall doing X" when being accused of something.

In English saying I don't recall implies that you could be mistaken. But literally speaking, at any point anything you say could be incorrect because you're human and memory is imperfect.

In the US, is specifically prefacing a statement with "To the best of my recollection ..." or "I don't recall..." offer any kind of benefit in terms of committing to the statement?

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    Presumably, since this is site on Law, you're specifically wondering whether this is a practical defense against possible perjury charges? – feetwet May 30 '15 at 3:14
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    Yes. At least, i meant in any context where what you said could be used against you. (So for example, after being read your Miranda rights.) – Carlos Bribiescas May 31 '15 at 3:13
  • The problem w "I don't recall" is that you don't just answer questions once on one day. You are asked them repeatedly in different contexts. And if you want to play dumb with an opposing counsel who has read all of your emails you better be some kind of genius. – jqning Jun 1 '15 at 2:47
  • Another one you missed, but is in the same vein is that dates are always given as "On or around 8:00 am, September 19, 2018" when we do not have the time stamp. If another time stamp of the event exists, and it took place at 8:01, it is still within the bounds of that date. It's still difficult to pin the actual time too, but it's a good start of when it might occur. – hszmv Oct 4 '18 at 14:42

"I don't recall" will protect you from perjury only if it's true.

Let me try an example. You're asked: "Did Mr. Blatter hand you an envelope full of cash?"

You say: "Not to my recollection."

Now the government introduces a videotape of you receiving and counting the money, and a thank-you note you wrote to Blatter saying "Thanks for the awesome bribe!"

You can defend yourself from perjury charges if you can convince the finder of fact that you had forgotten all of those things...but it's not very likely, is it?

"I don't recall" isn't a magic bullet. It's like any other statement: it's perjury unless it's true.

  • Remember that "perjury" is a specific offense: lying under oath. That usually means in a deposition, on the witness stand, or testifying before Congress. The questioner mentioned Miranda; lying to the police may be actionable in other ways, but unless I'm mistaken it's not perjury. – Christian Conkle Jun 1 '15 at 3:14
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    But isn't the hurdle to establishing perjury higher, because the opposition has to not only establish a fact, but also establish beyond a reasonable doubt that you should have remembered it? I'd be interested to see some successful examples of perjury for such statements, since, conscientious though I am, I am not very attentive to certain things. E.g, you could ask me what I was wearing yesterday and I wouldn't recall, whereas my wife would remember what I was wearing almost any day in the last 5 years. In contrast, I would believe she can't remember what color car she drives every day ;) – feetwet Jun 1 '15 at 3:17
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    Unless you took so many bribes that you genuinely forgot this one. Of course, in this case I bet you have a much bigger problem anyway. – o0'. Jun 1 '15 at 12:20
  • +1 for the Blatter example. – Willem Van Onsem Jun 2 '15 at 17:44
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    Hmm, well, I've accepted so many bribes, I completely forgot about that one. – I am not your lawyer Jun 2 '15 at 21:40

To address an earlier answer that has since been deleted (together with my disagreement comment)... Some people suggested that "I do not recall" is an example of Taking the Fifth.

But we respectfully disagree. In the "I do not recall" statement, one is alleging that one has no recollection of a certain event or facts, which is clearly incriminating in case it could be proven that one, in fact, did have such recollection, or must have had. It is also clear that it's entirely different from maintaining silence or explicitly saying only enough to the effect of doing so.

Of course, at first sight, proving someone's faulty or perfect memory is supposedly less straightforward than an outright denial of fact, but it's not any less of a lie than an outright denial, so, as another answer by chapka points out, it's not that difficult to introduce the evidence to the contrary of the "I do not recall" statements (videotapes and a thank-you-for-your-bribe notes), and, I must point out, if you must defend against such evidence knowing full well that your original "I do not recall" has been false anyways, you might as well be committing another perjury.

As to whether it's useful or not generally? If you must answer a bunch of questions, and only certain answers are prefaced with, "I do not recall", then it arguably might have some effect of what you do and don't remember. However, if you preface every single answer with such a statement, then it starts being somewhat of a farce.

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