Perjury Statute May Pose Problem for Clemens Prosecution


Last month, a federal grand jury indicted former Major League Baseball pitcher Roger Clemens on charges of obstruction of Congress, making false statements, and perjury. The six-count indictment alleges that Clemens obstructed a congressional inquiry in 2008 and lied to a House committee in 15 statements under oath, including denials that he had never used steroids or growth hormones. Clemens had been prominently mentioned in the Mitchell Report, Major League Baseball’s own accounting of its steroid problem, and he voluntarily went to Capitol Hill to testify before Congress and clear his own name.

Clemens adamantly denied any steroid use, testifying: “Let me be clear. I have never taken steroids or HGH.” It is this statement, among others, that is now the subject of the indictment.

Clemens continues to insist that he told the truth. Although three counts of the indictment focus on false statements made by Clemens (18 U.S.C. 1001), two counts focus on perjury (18 U.S.C. 1621), which is more difficult to prove. Specifically, a witness under oath or affirmation in federal official proceedings violates 18 U.S.C. 1621 if he gives false testimony concerning a material matter with the willful intent to provide false testimony, rather than as a result of confusion, mistake, or faulty memory. In other words, testimony that is literally true, even if deceptively so, cannot be considered perjury.

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