Yahoo News explains: What does ‘under penalty of felony’ mean?

Kate Murphy
Producer

On Sept. 27, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony placed Mark Judge in the room during the alleged sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh when they were teenagers. Dr. Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, “Both Brett and Mark were drunkenly laughing during the attack. They seemed to be having a very good time.”

Following Ford’s testimony, Judge’s lawyer sent a second letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, again denying his client had any recollection of the alleged events. But this time, Judge signed it personally, “under penalty of felony.” What does that mean?

Let’s start with perjury, which is a felony and carries a prison sentence: It means someone is found to have given false statements or testimony while under oath. Witness statements or letters — like those from from Mark Judge — submitted to a congressional committee aren’t typically sworn to under oath, so perjury isn’t relevant.

What stops someone from making false statements in a written document or an unsworn interview? A federal statute, 18 U.S.C. 1001, criminalizes such acts “under penalty of felony” saying such persons will be “fined and imprisoned not more than 5 years.”

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to the same charge after lying to the FBI while not under oath during interviews related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.