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Can you avoid a perjury charge by saying you don’t recall?

On Behalf of | Jan 4, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

Whether you’re providing testimony in a deposition, a hearing or during a trial, you’ll be under oath. That means intentionally lying can get you charged with perjury. 

Sometimes, witnesses think they’re being clever by saying they don’t recall certain things they’re asked about. After all, it can be difficult to prove whether someone truly recalls something at any given moment.

Any answer – even “I don’t recall” – must be truthful

It’s important to be careful with answers like that. First of all, if you say you don’t recall, you need to be telling the truth. If you don’t “recall” something you’ve talked or otherwise communicated with people about, it may only be a matter of time before that comes to light and you could face a perjury charge.

Typically, experienced attorneys know how to get around “I don’t recall” answers. If you say you don’t recall when you last saw someone, they can narrow it down to whether you recall seeing them in the past year or within a week before an alleged crime. They often present evidence to “jog” a person’s memory. They may have a copy of a check a witness doesn’t recall signing or a video of them going into a home they don’t recall visiting.

If you have sound legal representation, you’ll likely be told to only answer the specific questions asked of you and not to guess if you’re not sure. Sometimes, “I don’t recall” can seem like a safe way to go.

Is it reasonable that you wouldn’t recall something?

However, it has to be not only truthful but a reasonable answer. It’s nearly impossible to believe that you wouldn’t remember someone asking you to hide a weapon for them, for example. However, it’s reasonable that you may not recall precisely what date or time they made that request.

If you’re saying you don’t recall something to avoid incriminating yourself, remember that this is why the Fifth Amendment exists. Taking the Fifth isn’t against the law if you’re doing it for the intended reason. Answering every question with “I don’t recall” or, worse, “I don’t know” is typically not the right course of action.

If you need to give sworn testimony in writing or in person, it’s best to have sound legal guidance, to be honest with your attorney and to be prepared. This can help you avoid adding to any legal issues you might be facing.