The Supreme Court decision in Bronston v. United States asserts that a defendant can be charged with perjury only on the basis of what the defendant actually said, not on the basis of a truthful statement that may lead to a misleading interpretation. Robbins (2019) proposes to include misleading and incomplete testimony in the language of the U.S. federal perjury statute. Robbins claims that this addition would discourage sophisticated defendants from using misleading rhetoric to avoid telling the truth; he also claims that juries should have no difficulty identifying misleading statements. In this article, I explore the notions of ‘misleading statement’ and ‘omission’ to clearly delineate their semantic fields. I show that there are practical, as well as philosophical, difficulties in the changes to the perjury statute that Robbins proposes. Most importantly, the empirical work reported by Skoczeń (2021) shows that naïve subjects do not always agree in their interpretation of misleading statements and, even when they agree that a statement is misleading, they do not agree whether it should be regarded in the same category as a lie. These findings suggest that more work needs to be done in our understanding of linguistic interpretation before we are certain that we can predict the consequences of broadening the scope of the perjury statute.
lies, perjury, implicature, misleading statement, omission, concealment
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