Perjury in a Bankruptcy Case

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When you file your bankruptcy case, you'll have to provide lots of lots of individual pieces of information. Once all that info is gathered, you'll put together into documents called the schedules and the statement of financial affairs. All of these documents must be signed under "penalty of perjury," an alternative to swearing or affirming to tell the truth. It does not require that an officer of the court, like a notary, administer an oath. Instead, when you sign under penalty of perjury, you understand that you could be prosecuted for signing the documents if the information is wrong or incomplete and you knew that at the time of signing.

Definition of Perjury

Under federal law, perjury is defined this way at 18 U.S.C. Sec. 1621:

Whoever—
(1) having taken an oath before a competent tribunal, officer, or person, in any case in which a law of the United States authorizes an oath to be administered, that he will testify, declare, depose, or certify truly, or that any written testimony, declaration, deposition, or certificate by him subscribed, is true, willfully and contrary to such oath states or subscribes any material matter which he does not believe to be true; or
(2) in any declaration, certificate, verification, or statement under penalty of perjury as permitted under section 1746 of title 28, United States Code, willfully subscribes as true any material matter which he does not believe to be true; is guilty of perjury and shall, except as otherwise expressly provided by law, be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both. This section is applicable whether the statement or subscription is made within or without the United States.

In other words, the information is material (important), and if you lie about it or you omit it, you've committed perjury.

Ways to Commit Perjury:

Here is a shortlist of some of the ways you can commit perjury in a bankruptcy case.  

  • Listing a false address, false name, or false Social Security number
  • Failing to list all names used in the previous 8 years
  • Failing to list all the times you've filed bankruptcy in the previous 8 years 
  • Failing to list all your creditors, property, income, or expenses
  • Lying about the types of income or expenses you have
  • Failing to answer or lying in your answers to the statement of financial affairs
  • Lying or omitting information on when giving testimony in bankruptcy court or in deposition in a bankruptcy case
  • Lying or omitting information in a meeting of creditors

If you're thinking about lying to the bankruptcy court or committing bankruptcy fraud, please know that the Department of Justice has seen it all. Here's a list of the some of the infractions that the federal government might charge you with when lie to the bankruptcy court or commit fraud on your creditors:  Dept of Justice bankruptcy sample indictments

The Penalties:

Most of the infractions listed above are felonies under federal law. Felonies generally carry a higher penalty than do misdemeanors or civil infractions. All are serious penalties for a serious crime.

  • Prison:  If you are convicted of committing perjury in connection with your bankruptcy case, you can go to federal prison for up to five years for each count.  See 18 U.S.C. Sec. 152.
  • Fines:  In addition to going to prison, you can be fined up to $250,000.  See 18 U.S.C. Sec. 3571.
  • Restitution:  If your perjury caused harm to another, you can be ordered to pay restitution.
  • Loss of Discharge:  Specific to bankruptcy, you can lose your discharge or lose the discharge of certain debts, but still be required to forfeit non-exempt property.
  • Loss of Rights and Privileges:  Once convicted of a felony, you can also be denied these rights and privileges of citizenship:
    • vote
    • possess a firearm
    • enlist in the armed forces
    • serve on a jury
    • certain federal benefits
    • hold federal office or employment
  • Affect on immigration status: being convicted of a bankruptcy crime can also negatively affect your immigration status and your application for citizenship.

Can you really go to jail for lying on your bankruptcy paperwork?

Indeed you can.  Read on:

 

Updated by Carron E. Nicks January 2018