Criminal Law – Contradictory Statements Under Oath as Grounds for Perjury in the Federal Courts

Perjury has frequently been described as one of the more difficult convictions to obtain, and the truth of this saying is no better illustrated than in the case of Harvey Matusow. During the two years in which ex-Communist Matusow served as a professional government witness, he accused 180 or more persons as being members of the Communist Party or Communist sympathizers. This same witness has now described himself as a “habitual and perpetual liar” and has publicly admitted that all of his previous testimony was false. On the strength of this recantation, motions were filed for a new trial in two cases where Matusow’ s testimony had played a key role in gaining a conviction for the government. In both instances, Matusow furnished sworn affidavits and took the witness stand to assert under oath that his former sworn testimony was a mere fabrication. In the Jencks case the motion was dismissed and Matusow was sentenced to three years imprisonment for contempt of court. The other motion has yet to be decided. On the surface this would seem to be an open and shut case of perjury, but the fact that to this date no indictment has been made points up one of the strangest paradoxes of the criminal law.