Suppose a person testifies, under oath, on two different occasions, as to certain events. The two sworn testimonies are in direct and clear contradiction to each other. For example, one time Jane Doe testifies that Joe Smith was present at a crime scene, and the next testimony is that he was not (ever) present.

There is no independent way to determine which statement is true, and which is false.

Nevertheless, one of the statements must be false. Can a charge of perjury be laid against Jane Doe in such a case, without specifying which actual testimony? If a charge of perjury is impossible, are there other false statement charges that could be brought?

  • 2
    How would we know that one of them must be a deliberate lie? How would we exclude the possibility that one is true and the other is an innocent mistake (which would not be perjury)? Feb 25 '18 at 23:08
  • I'm going to add a line about other perjury-like charges, to cover the situation Nate Eldredge brought up.
    – Stackstuck
    Feb 26 '18 at 9:43

In Wisconsin, right after the perjury law, they have a law prohibiting "false swearing". It applies if a person:

Makes or subscribes 2 inconsistent statements under oath or affirmation or upon signing a statement pursuant to s. 887.015 in regard to any matter respecting which an oath, affirmation, or statement is, in each case, authorized or required by law or required by any public officer or governmental agency as a prerequisite to such officer or agency taking some official action, under circumstances which demonstrate that the witness or subscriber knew at least one of the statements to be false when made. The period of limitations within which prosecution may be commenced runs from the time of the first statement.

So even if they couldn't actually get you for perjury, they could get you for violating this law. Perjury and false swearing are both class H felonies, so you can expect the same punishment.

I am going to guess that the existence of this law suggests that it was needed to cover what would otherwise be a loophole in the perjury law, but I can't say for sure.


The question mildly jumps the gun, by withholding the relevant facts, which would be the trial transcript. One interpretation of the testimony of Samuel Bronston is that he lied about having a personal bank account in Switzerland. Another, which is The Law in the us since that decision, is that he did not commit perjury but he was also not overly eager to testify against himself. We would have to look at the actual testimony: "He said quote..." and not "he said that...". In there present scenario there are many non-perjurous scenarios, such as :

A: "Did you see Smith when Betsy was murdered?"

D: "Smith was there, I saw him, and he was mad as hell".

A: "At what exact time did you see him?"

D: "He was there when I drove up, and I said hi to him. I looked at my watch and it was 11:07".

A: "When was Betsy shot?"

D: "11:30. I heard the shot and looked at my watch. I was out having a smoke".

A: "Did you see Smith at that time?"

D: "No. I didn't see his car either"

A: "Do you think Smith was at the scene at the time of the murder?"

D: "No, I guess must have left"

A witness may correct their testimony, so contradictory testimony is not necessarily perjurous. There would have to be evidence that Doe knew that a statement was literally false.

  • I find it odd that you capitalized "the law", but not "US". Feb 26 '18 at 3:10
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    I find it odd that you assume that the resolution of this question is "there is no contradiction occurring, move along". The question specifically says there's a contradiction, you don't get to handwave it away.
    – Stackstuck
    Feb 26 '18 at 9:48

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