Can you be charged with perjury for saying, “I don’t recall?”

Any time you provide testimony in a criminal case (yours or someone else’s) under oath, whether it’s verbally or in writing, you’re required to tell the truth. If you don’t, you could potentially face perjury charges.

When people are being questioned about a friend’s or associate’s alleged criminal activities, they sometimes choose to say they don’t recall. Even if they do, they figure no one can really prove that.

They may also think that saying, “I don’t recall” is better than “taking the Fifth.” The latter is typically done when someone could incriminate themselves by answering a question.

Why it often doesn’t work

Say you have some awareness that a person you know or worked with was involved in criminal activity. You don’t want to get them in trouble (and deal with possible retaliation or have authorities look more closely at you.) Can you just answer, “I don’t recall” to any questions about these things?

You can only do that if it’s the truth. Whether anyone can prove that you don’t recall something at any given moment isn’t the point.

Besides, experienced prosecutors know how to deal with witnesses or suspects that insist on claiming no recollection. They may ask specific questions about events leading up to or following an action or conversation they’re interested in. They may well have evidence to show someone regarding what they don’t recall to “help” with their memory.

Why you may face perjury charges

At some point, it can become absurd for someone to continue saying they don’t recall something. Further, if you’re saying you don’t recall something that anyone would remember – like someone asking you to take part in a crime or hide a bloody weapon — your chances of facing a perjury charge increase.

If you’re being questioned by police or prosecutors, either under oath or not, it’s always wise not to go it alone and to be honest with your attorney. This can help them give you the best possible guidance for answering questions so that you protect your rights while not placing yourself in any (or any further) legal jeopardy.

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