The information contained in this complaint, and any supporting documentation or materials referenced herein or submitted herewith, is true and correct to the best of my knowledge, information and belief.
— Part of jurat on complaint form, Page 3, Tennessee ethics commission
Under penalties of perjury, I declare that I have examined this return and accompanying schedules, and to the best of my knowledge and belief, they are true, correct and complete.
— Legal jurat just above signature line on federal tax form 1040
[In perjury,] the party must believe that what he is swearing is fictitious.
— Bouvier’s law dictionary
[Note, nothing in this essay should be construed as legal advice. For legal advice, consult an attorney. — DJT]
By David Tulis
Many Americans lately have filed out federal paperwork and signed their names with a sort of ecstatic abandon to legal form. They have inked their full names, affixed their social security numbers to formularies of the federal state and whisked off to relatively more important chores in life such as picking up a daughter from ballet or spending an hour oiling a lawn mower and sharpening its blades.
Forms signed by taxpayers and others provide a peril that few people have considered. But the peril has, on its backside, a great potential for liberation. So remarkable is the peril that if you correctly understand the state and federal perjury statutes, you may find yourself barred from signing government papers.
A brief analysis of perjury will make us end with circumspection, caution and reserve. Signing forms binds you to a vast series of facts and legal terminology that are at best possible, though you swear that they are, indeed, true. Perjury is signing with your signature a form you either are uncertain about or whose legal terminology you consent to out of fear, but not out of knowledge. For people who fill out forms they know they don’t have to, perjury is affirming as fact what they know is a lie. Perjury is affirming as true and complete something for which you have only a vague idea. The state’s jurat should have the effect of keeping away people who know their constitutional rights and refuse to compromise or waive them in error. In their integrity they are saved from having to interact with government.
Perjury, of biblical origin, is a sword, hanging over line
Perjury is a crime under authority of the 9th commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). Perjury is the penalty evoked by the taking of an oath before God to tell the truth. Even governments that reject God keep a form of oath. The judicial “affirmation” keeps the form of the oath, but evokes no enforcing deity. In an affirmation, a person effectively swears on himself to enforce the truth.
The perjury statute in the Tennessee code and the U.S. code waves away a certain group of people. The perjury statute is a barrier to filling out forms to those who understand the perjury statute, and whose framework of knowledge contradicts or doesn’t recognize that written on the form by the state and its scribes. State employees and departments design forms to trap the public in the tax and regulatory treadmill and obligate them in perpetuity. But their use of the perjury jurat repels any man who has the integrity to not swear falsely a thing he knows is not true, or to swear as true to something about which he is unsure.
Clean, correct data is the goal of the oath. The threat of a perjury charge makes everyone filling out a Form 1040 be scrupulous and truthful. It makes everyone filling out a form to obtain a state privilege watchful about his intentions and the meanings of the word before him. One supplies information to government openly, without reservation, the details being complete. One fills out forms because one understands all the terminology used on the form, having looked up meanings or obtained legal counsel. One fills out paperwork to obtain a driver’s license under penalty of perjury because he is dealing with a modern state.
Modern states, adopting a form of the godhead, brook no deceit and look into the heart, as it were, as does God. The transactions are beyond commercial; they are effectively part of its form of religion.
Many people in local economy are small businessmen who are said to be “self-employed.” Can I recall a time in which I said, as an entrepreneur,
David Tulis, I’d like you to hire me, David Tulis, as an employee, and let me, David Tulis, be your employer, and we will have a master-servant relationship, which the law dictionary says is the legal meaning of employment
— if you have not had such a conference with yourself, can you honestly declare yourself self-employed? Self-employment is a lie; well, it’s a legal fiction that all parties in law simply accept as a workable concept to let government reach down into the tiniest corner of local economy. The fact is that as a small businessman, you “work for yourself” or “make a living.” These are true statements you could make about yourself, and if you understand them to be true, you enter into a deception to say you are self-employed.
Saying you are self-employed when you have cautiously refrained from such legal fiction is getting awfully close to the fangs of the perjury law. So, what is perjury?
‘Intent to deceive’
Perjury laws command unreserved truthfulness. They also command that your conclusions about your obligations and liberty coincide with the state’s legal and linguistic framework.
Perjury in TCA 39-16-701 requires that the lie be material, or able to affect “the course or outcome of the official proceeding.” Perjury is entirely in the realm of an interaction with government. It occurs during “official proceedings,” any type of “administrative, executive, judicial, or legislative proceeding that is conducted before a public servant” authorized by law to take statements under oath. Importantly, perjury is a crime requiring mens rea, Latin for guilty mind. There has to be “intent to deceive.”
Petty perjury is distinct from felony perjury. In a misdemeanor, one makes a false statement under oath, or confirms the truth of a false statement previously made, or makes a false statement not under oath but on a government form with the “subject to penalties of perjury” jurat. In Tennessee, felony perjury is fibbery on any handgun permit application or a TBI sexual offender registration form, or that uttered in a material matter during a trial. Perjury prosecutions are rare.
The subjective element
The crime of perjury is alleged when the state, the offended party, believes it can convince a jury that the defendant knowingly and deliberately made false statements. The more clearly it can show a jury the defendant got a benefit from lying, the better its chances of conviction. In other words, is there a motive behind the perjurous act. Its case is even easier if the iffy statements can be shown as false.
As I said, the penalty of perjury exists because the modern nation-state is a deity, and demands submission in heart and mind. It prosecutes perjury not in civil cases, but in cases to which it is a party, namely criminal ones or government civil trials in the regulatory and investigative spheres. A Christian understands the crime of perjury because his religious conception of the world as belonging to God dictates integrity and honesty in all matters.
Why might people lie on government paperwork?
They lie and take part in fictions because they are afraid. They lie because they fear that if they don’t go along, they might get into trouble. They sense coercion about them, and if they don’t fill out the form they will be harassed, hounded or disturbed in their livings. While some lie to avoid feared evil by authorities, others lie to obtain a positive benefit, a subsidy, a government-guaranteed loan, a stream of income or a lower tax. Fraud is an epidemic among federal programs such as Medicare or, as of today, a federal phone program for the poor. They don’t know what the words mean and yet they affirm them.
Most words on a government form have a definition in statute. Did you look them up? Until you know what the words mean, how can you affirm that your words, entries and signature on the form are true, correct and complete? Most people, I suspect, rely on casual comments, assumptions and cultural norms about their duties vis a vis government paperwork, and they act in good faith. A good faith answer to the best of your ability is a defense against an accusation of perjury.
Perjury even in ‘accidental’ truth
Bouvier’s, the constitutional dictionary, emphasizes in its extended definition of perjury that “the oath must be false.” “The oath must be taken and the falsehood asserted with deliberation, and a consciousness of the nature of the statement made. *** The party must believe that what he is swearing is fictitious.” In other words, perjury exists when the person swearing knows that his affirmations and statements are fiction.
Legal authorities point out that you commit perjury even if what you say “accidentally true” if you knew that what you were saying was false. In other words, you perjure yourself by affirming as true something you think is false — even if what you affirm is accidentally true.
So, if you know that government forms misrepresent your legal situation as a local economy businessman or as a national economy corporate executive, you are perjuring yourself if you fill out the baronial paperwork and, by mishap, tell the truth. Very possibly the government is truthful and honest about everything its scribes put on the paperwork presented to the honest public. Very possibly there is such a thing as self-employment, and I am just too slow a man here in Chattanooga to understand it. If the government is right that there is such a thing as self-employment, but you know differently, you perjure yourself to affirm yourself self-employed when you have the crazy notion that you are simply working for yourself or making a living in your trade, calling or profession.
U.S. and Tennessee perjury laws are a great wedge dividing two groups of people confronting that inescapable modern phenomenon, civil authority. One category is those people who make constant statements to government. The second group is those who cannot with integrity and good conscience make such statements because they would contradict what that person knows about the perjury law or about the law as relates to him as an economic actor.
Governmental good faith and the perjury escape hatch
I always want to ascribe good faith to other people, even if they are in civil authority. How to understand these jurats as governmental favors to members of the public, a form of civic grace bestowed upon the people?
The jurats are intended to scare people away from interactions with government. The “penalty of perjury” warning is intended to keep people away who have absolutely no business coming before government.
Government, if you haven’t noticed, is besieged with petitioners and is very busy helping other people. It doesn’t want anyone to present himself before its officers unless they are there truly, legally, and in full compliance with all the terms of that commercial relationship or that relation under law.
Yes, government is commercial government, and operates in equity, as a private or corporate business. But it is extremely busy helping people before you, who got there first, and whose needs are really pressing and urgent, and whose lives will fall apart if government is not there to secure things and make everyone warm and well fed. The perjury statute keeps away people who don’t belong there, who are inferior to receiving such ministrations.
Would government prosecute a man with a line of doubts who fills out forms knowing they are lies? I’ve raised the question above. But here I say, categorically, no. Because such untruthfulness is to its advantage, and to prosecute such a person would reveal too much about the deception that undergirds its vertically integrated apparatus of social and economic control. But if you are a circumspect and honest man, you owe it to yourself to beware the fangs of perjury law and see if they might not be a pair of desk scissors able to snip chains of paper.