Perjurious testimony or declarations can be given in a wide variety of contexts. Perjury prosecutions, however, most often result from false testimony given in a criminal trial or before a grand jury. Less frequently, a perjury prosecution will be based on false testimony given in a civil trial. In rare cases, false testimony in a civil deposition can lead to a perjury prosecution. Under federal law and in most states, perjury is a felony.
In many cases, perjury charges are brought when a prosecution for other criminal conduct is not possible—for example, when the defendant has already been acquitted of the other criminal conduct, or the statute of limitations on that conduct has expired, or there simply is not enough evidence of the other criminal conduct. The perjury conviction of Alger Hiss in 1950 is perhaps the most famous modern example of such a prosecution. Although Hiss was never charged with spying, he was prosecuted for perjury for lying to the federal grand jury that was investigating the spying allegations.
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