Have you ever had a client who was accused of sexually assaulting a co-worker? How about a client who was accused of sexually assaulting five co-workers? If the allegations are true, justice demands that the client be prosecuted. But what if they’re false? What if you could prove these women conspired against the client for the sole purpose of filing civil lawsuits to make money? What does justice demand for them? While justice demands that these women be charged for making a false report to law enforcement and for committing perjury in an official proceeding, they will walk free. How do I know? I know because this was my case.
While it took nearly three years to prove these alleged victims lied for monetary gain, the moment the State Attorney’s Office announced the dismissal of all charges was well worth the wait. However, I can’t help but wonder, what happens now?
What happens to the women who made the false reports that put my client through three years of hell, and destroyed his life and reputation? Will they proceed with their civil suits? Will they be successful? Will the state charge them for making false reports and committing perjury? While I don’t have the answer to all of these questions, the answer to the latter is almost certainly, “no.” Yet, without consequences for dishonesty in legal proceedings, the criminal justice system is implicitly sanctioning it. Turning a blind eye to an alleged victim’s false statements only adds to the suspicion and disrespect the public has for the legal system and these defendants, as they likely assume these cases are being dismissed on mere technicalities.
While there is no denying the seriousness of the offense, there are reasons behind the decision not to pursue perjury charges against an alleged victim. For instance, the crime of perjury is rarely supported by physical evidence. In Florida, to convict an individual for perjury, a prosecutor must prove: (1) that the statement was false; (2) that the defendant did not believe the statement to be true; and (3) that the statement was regarding a material matter. § 837.02, Fla. Stat.
For a statement to be material, it must relate to any subject which could affect the outcome of the case. § 837.011(3), Fla. Stat. While a prosecutor might be able to prove the defendant knowingly made a false statement, the difficulty in meeting the materiality requirement oft en tips the scales against prosecution. However, the difficulties in obtaining a conviction should not be the sole reason for ignoring these crimes, as the process itself may act to deter others.
In light of these issues, some prosecutors may not file charges for perjury where they think the issue is more appropriate for civil court under a defamation or malicious prosecution claim. Still others may hesitate to pursue perjury charges out of fear that it will deter future victims and witnesses from coming forward. This is especially true when the victim is reporting a crime that is domestic or sexual in nature, as these crimes are generally without corroborating witnesses.
While the above reasons against prosecution are understandable to an extent, if false report and perjury laws are never enforced, the benefits of lying will always outweigh the cost. When an individual knowingly and maliciously files a false police report or makes a material false statement during the course of an official proceeding, justice demands these offenses be prosecuted, as such allegations oft en result in the arrest of an innocent person. In and of itself, that arrest may cause an individual to lose their job, family, friends, reputation, and everything in between. Not to mention, the individual who is falsely accused will incur significant costs, which include bond, attorneys’ fees, and other expenses related to their defense. While civil courts may provide By Shannon Day an alternate course of action, such relief falls woefully short of providing the type of justice they deserve.
In order to maintain the integrity of the criminal justice system, attorneys must challenge the presumption that perjury should be ignored based on an individual’s status as a victim. For when an individual is falsely accused of a crime, they are the true victim and deserve an equal opportunity for justice.
Where appropriate, pursuing charges for filing false reports and committing perjury will deter these crimes from being committed in the future, while sending a message that such abuse and manipulation of the justice system will not be tolerated. While it would be inappropriate to prosecute every witness who misstates a particular detail, such as the color of a suspect’s shirt, in situations where false testimony may result in the conviction of an innocent defendant, we cannot sit idly. As members of the bar, we have a duty to see that justice is done for every victim, even those who start out as a defendant. Shannon Day