The penalty for lying to a grand jury can prove quite punitive, and for good reason. Cases brought before a grand jury, as with no other fact-finding forum, primarily deal with seriously felonious activity of the highest (or, more accurately, lowest) order. These activities, whether carried out by individuals or an assemblage of lawbreakers, range from assault and battery, manslaughter or murder to burglary, embezzlement, fraud and malfeasance in public office. A society based on the rule of law cannot tolerate these kinds of illicit behavior to exist.
Because of the gravity of these crimes, witnesses testifying before a grand jury must provide not only accurate and verifiable evidence, but remain truthful throughout the questioning. If not, a real possibility arises that the grand jury may find an innocent person guilty or a guilty person innocent of the charges brought before it. Grand jury findings, if based on the prevarications of one or more of the witnesses, very well could result in a miscarriage of justice. Consequently, laws against perjury before a grand jury (or other court of law or an officer of the court, for that matter) can bring prompt disciplinary judgment against a person convicted of lying.
The U.S. judicial system considers lying before a grand jury so serious a matter that it deems such activity a felonious crime on a par with obstruction of justice, bribery and malfeasance. A person convicted of lying before a grand jury immediately becomes legally classified as a felon. The judgment carries with it penalties that may include extremely hefty fines or several years of imprisonment, or a combination of the two. In some rare cases, a witness convicted of testifying falsely before a grand jury may suffer worse consequences than if indicted and found guilty of the original charge or charges.
If called to testify before a grand jury, a person should seek the advice of a qualified attorney. The law prohibits the presence of an attorney within the grand jury chamber, but a witness does have a legal right to consult with his or her attorney somewhere outside before answering any of the questions asked. This will help the witness avoid voicing an inadvertently misleading statement that a prosecutor later may indict for as perjury. Though appearing before a grand jury might prove uncomfortable in the extreme, truthful testimony will prevent the prosecutor from making such charges when unwarranted.