Skip to Content

What happens if a witness statement is false?

A witness statement is a formal written account of what a witness personally saw or heard relating to a case. Witness statements are a crucial form of evidence in legal proceedings as they provide first-hand testimony that can support or refute claims made by the parties involved. However, sometimes witnesses may intentionally or unintentionally provide false information in their statements. This can significantly impact the outcome of a case, so it is important to understand what happens if a statement is found to be false.

Why might a witness provide a false statement?

There are several reasons a witness may end up providing false information in their statement:

  • Intentional lying – A witness may deliberately lie in their statement to protect themselves or someone else, to avoid getting in trouble, out of loyalty, or for other personal reasons.
  • Unintentional false memories – Human memory is fallible. A witness may unintentionally misremember details or create false memories of events that did not actually occur.
  • Coercion or intimidation – A witness could feel pressured to lie by threats, bribery, or influence from interested parties in the case.
  • Mistaken identity – The witness may have honestly mistaken someone else for the person in question.
  • Misunderstanding the question – A statement could be inaccurate if the witness did not properly understand what they were being asked.

Regardless of whether it is intentional or not, providing false information in a witness statement can still have significant legal consequences.

What happens when a false witness statement is discovered?

If a witness statement is found or suspected to contain false information, several things may occur:

Additional investigation

Police, lawyers, or private investigators will likely conduct further investigation to uncover supporting evidence that either refutes or corroborates the statement. Things they may look into include:

  • Interviewing the witness again for clarification or confrontation
  • Interviewing other witnesses who may refute the statement
  • Reviewing other evidence like documents, photos, videos, etc.
  • Visiting relevant locations to verify claims
  • Researching the background of the witness

This additional investigation will help determine if there is proof that part or all of the statement is false.

Confronting the witness

The witness will likely be directly confronted about the suspected false information. They may be asked to explain perceived inaccuracies, inconsistencies, or contradictions in their statement. Their reaction and response to being confronted could reveal whether they lied intentionally or made an honest mistake.

Withdrawing the statement

If the witness acknowledges that their statement was false, they may submit an amended statement or withdraw their original statement altogether. This prevents the false information from being used as evidence.

Discrediting the witness

If proof is uncovered that a witness lied, the court and lawyers may discredit and disregard all or part of the witness’s testimony. Their credibility as a reliable source of information is damaged. This makes it unlikely their current or future statements will carry much evidentiary weight.

Perjury charges

Intentionally providing materially false information in a witness statement given under oath is the crime of perjury. In some cases, the witness may face criminal perjury charges for lying under oath in an official legal proceeding. Perjury is a felony offense that can result in substantial fines and years of imprisonment.

What factors determine the consequences?

The specific consequences that occur if a witness statement is found to be false depend on several factors:


How significant the false information is to the case determines the severity of potential penalties. Lying about minor irrelevant details is viewed differently than providing false testimony about critical material facts related to guilt or innocence.


Whether the witness lied intentionally or made an honest mistake affects the response. Unintentional inaccuracies due to faulty memory or misunderstanding receive more leniency than willful lying.

Stage of proceedings

The later in the legal process that the lie is caught, the more wasted time, money and effort was spent relying on false evidence. Lies caught early on cause less disruption than those not uncovered until trial.

Under oath?

Lying under oath is perjury and carries more serious penalties. Statements given early in investigation may not yet be sworn testimony.


Admitting the lie and recanting the false statement before it causes harm is viewed more favorably than maintaining the deception.


Witnesses who cooperate fully once confronted have better outcomes. Those who persist in lying or refuse to acknowledge inaccuracies face harsher treatment.

Criminal history

First time offenses receive more leniency. Witnesses with a history of lying, crimes of dishonesty or past perjury convictions are treated more severely.

What are the potential legal penalties?

Here are some potential legal penalties a witness making false statements may face:


For perjury under oath, consequences can include:

  • Up to 5 years in prison
  • $250,000 in fines

However, sentences are often less than the maximum. About 80% of federal perjury cases result in probation without prison time. But punishment is still substantial.

Contempt of court

A judge may charge the witness with contempt of court for lying. This can result in:

  • Up to 1 year in jail
  • A fine

Fines and probation

Even if perjury charges are not pursued, the witness may face penalties like:

  • Tens of thousands of dollars in fines
  • Probation requiring community service
  • Court fees and restitution

Civil lawsuit

If others suffer damages from reliance on the false statement, the witness may be sued civilly for:

  • Monetary damages for losses caused

What happens in other legal scenarios?

Beyond court cases, providing false information in other legal situations can also carry consequences:

Police investigations

Lying during a police investigation can lead to charges like:

  • Obstruction of justice
  • Providing false statements
  • Wasting police time

This can result in fines or jail time even if not under oath.

Insurance claims

Lying on an insurance claim about property loss, damages or injuries is insurance fraud. This can lead to:

  • Denial of the claim
  • Cancelation of the policy
  • Civil penalties and criminal charges

Government applications

Falsifying government applications, such as for benefits like disability or unemployment, can lead to:

  • Denial of the application
  • Ban from reapplying
  • Repayment of fraudulently collected funds
  • Disqualification from future government aid


Providing false information as a witness can significantly impact legal proceedings and investigations. Consequences range from damaged credibility to fines, probation or years in prison in cases of perjury. While honest mistakes in memory may be forgiven, intentional lying faces steep penalties. Witnesses should take care to provide complete and accurate statements to the full extent of their recollection.