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24 Am. Inst. Crim. L. & Criminology 901 (1933-1934)
You Do Solemnly Swear or that Perjury Problem

handle is hein.journals/jclc24 and id is 914 raw text is: YOU DO SOLEMNLY SWEAR! OR THAT
I asserted the other day in a public address that there was per-
jury in fifty per cent of all contested civil cases, in seventy-five per
cent of all criminal cases, and in ninety per cent of all divorce cases;
and the audience laughed! So notorious is false swearing in court
proceedings that an intelligent group of American citizens looks upon
it as a joke. And yet it must be obvious that if the stream of fact
in a judicial proceeding is polluted, the stream of justice will also be
impure. The present prevalence of perjury is not a joke but a
The problem, however, is not a new one. Throughout history
wherever oaths have been required either by custom or by law, per-
jury has been scandalously common. Formerly the means relied upon
to cope with the problem were supernatural. The object of the oath
was to frighten the witness into telling the truth lest he suffer under
the hand of an outraged Deity. We .still profess to believe, by the
very fact that we retain the oath, that it has a supernatural sanction;
but at the same time we make perjury a crime and threaten the
oath-taker with dire secular penalties if he bears false witness. In
addition the courts have the power to punish false swearers for con-
tempt of court and occasionally do so. Neither lawyers nor judges,
however, put their faith in the efficacy of the oath as a truth-com-
pelling instrument. They persist in believing that one good piece
of cross-examination is worth more than half a dozen oaths. When
it comes to dealing with an evasive or dishonest witness one Max
Steuer outweighs all the oaths ever invented.
Clearly, then, the oath itself with whatever power is inherent
in it, the penal law, and the power of the courts to punish for con-
tempt have up to the present been impotent to prevent perjury and
to force witnesses to tell the truth in court; and, if for the moment
we can cast aside our indifference to such an appalling condition, it is
certainly pertinent to acquire whether we are wholly helpless or
whether, on the other hand, there is a way of coping with the mo-
iThe author is a member of the bar of the State of Washington. He now
lives in New York and devotes his time to literary work and the lecture plat-
form. His chief interest is law reform.

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