Perjury

There are good reasons why lying to a court is treated as a serious crime

The sentencing of Suzanne Garcia to six years in prison has left some scratching their heads as to why a woman would get such a stiff sentence for a crime that involved no physical injury, no loss of property and caused no one’s death.

That there might appear to be no victim, however, misses the point. Perjury reaches far beyond the particulars of any given case. It is a fundamental affront to American values and strikes at the foundation of our legal system. It must be taken seriously.

The perjury charges stemmed from a case in which Garcia’s brother ultimately pleaded guilty to killing her husband. A jury later convicted her of lying to the grand jury investigating the case.

Garcia was convicted of 10 felonies – eight counts of perjury, and one each of tampering with a witness and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The last two resulted from her having also coached her minor daughter to lie about the case.

That Garcia presumably did all this with the idea of in some way or another protecting her brother is hardly justification. The victim, after all, was her husband. The entire affair had to have been a nightmare for family members all around.

But as disturbing as the details of this case are, the simple fact remains that Garcia was convicted of lying under oath with the clear intention of altering the outcome of a criminal case. That cannot be tolerated.

The American criminal justice system operates on a number of underlying ideas. Defendants are presumed innocent unless and until found guilty. Judges and juries are chosen with an eye toward fairness and impartiality. The rule of law is applied without regard to class or status.

People are flawed and mistakes happen, but by and large, the system works well. Central to that is the idea that witnesses abide by their oath to tell the truth.

Testimony can be challenged, of course. But that typically goes to accuracy, not its basic honesty. How well does the witness remember events of weeks, months or even years ago? Might the car have been beige instead of brown? Is “I don’t remember” an unvarnished response or an evasion?

Questioning the accuracy of a witness or the trustworthiness of a memory is one thing. The adversarial nature of a trial, the judge’s discretion, the judgment of jurors all come into play in weighing such evidence.

But for someone to flat-out lie negates all that. There is no way to properly assess or evaluate a deliberate falsehood. Lying undermines the entire system and, when caught, must be punished.

Garcia could have been sentenced to six years for each of the charges for which she was convicted. With six years total, she got a break. Perjury is not something any prosecutor or judge can or should take lightly.