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Wendy Davis, a Texan Democrat candidate, made false statements about her past. She said how she was single at 19 when she'd actually gotten divorced at 21.

Davis might have separated from her first husband at age 19, but she was not "single" until she was 21. But "teenage single mother" is obviously a much better hardscrabble political talking point than the truth.

It's still written in her bio, and I was wondering:

  • Is she legally guilty of a crime?

  • Can she be kicked out of office if she gets elected? (When she lied that she was single at 19), it was under oath.)

  • Here's the original article, by the way: dallasnews.com/news/politics/headlines/… – Avi Jan 24 '14 at 23:11
  • This question has multiple issues. You have a title/body mismatch (you interested in this specific case or generally?). You are asking if she can get in legal trouble for lying in a bio (and under oath), one of those definately isn't illegal. You have 3 questions, the last seems retorical (why would the left biased media cover the story? (or anyone outside of Texas?)) how non-obscure are you talking about? Blaze, Brietbart, AM radio, etc. – user1873 Jan 24 '14 at 23:26
  • @user1873 Edited the question to make it more comprehensive. And I'm interested in both the specific case and in general. – Shahar Jan 24 '14 at 23:34
  • @Shahr the question about media obligations are different and probably off topic, so I'd ask that elsewhere or eliminate it altogether. But freedom of speech means there's no legal obligation to avoid bias. – Avi Jan 24 '14 at 23:37
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    This discussion about bias in the media is a little bit off topic – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Jan 27 '14 at 23:06
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Lying about one's past is not itself a crime. It is protected speech by the first amendment. In fact, the Supreme Court recently ruled that even lying that one had received a Medal of Honor was constitutionally protected speech.

Perjury is illegal, but a false statement made under oath is not necessarily going to result in a conviction of perjury. First, the person making the statement must know the statement is false. Given that the statement Wendy Davis made was about a significant event in her own past, she likely was aware of the truth value of the statement. However, perjury must also meet standards of materiality, which requires that the statement be one likely to influence the court's decision. Given that the case in which she testified and made that statement was one about redistricting, it is unlikely that the age at which Wendy Davis got divorced would be considered material.

She could be kicked out of office, but what she said about the age at which she got divorced doesn't necessitate impeachment. In Texas, a Governor can be impeached by a majority vote in the state House and 2/3rds majority vote in the state Senate. There are no specific impeachable offenses. The Texan congress could decide to impeach on the grounds that she mislead people in her biography, or on some other grounds, or could choose not to impeach at all.

By the way, this is the original article to which Brietbart was referring.

  • 2
    +1 But I wished you would have waited until the question was updated to Politics.SE standards. – user1873 Jan 24 '14 at 23:31
  • @user1873 I agree, it's problematic and should still be edited, but I think it was coherent enough for me to answer. If you want to clean it up I'd certainly encourage you to have a crack at it. Thanks for the upvote. – Avi Jan 24 '14 at 23:33
  • @Avi Sorry I'm not good at writing questions. By the way added another one. – Shahar Jan 24 '14 at 23:35
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    @Avi - Here's the section of the Texas constitution on impeachment, and here's their official summary of the process. Want to edit it into your answer to address the second (post-edit) question about being kicked out of office? – Bobson Jan 27 '14 at 16:39
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Politicians have held office while serving time in jail for crimes. Committing a crime before being elected, is thus obviously no barrier to holding office in all cases.

As for her calling herself a single mom, it is not only not a crime, it is not even objectively untrue as "single mom" could be taken to mean "raising one or more children without significant financial or time contribution from a partner" instead of "unwed mother".

This reminds me of the fuss about the character Murphy Brown being a unwed mother -- IMO no one that hires a full time nanny can accurately be called a "single parent". They may not be married, but they obviously have assistance in providing the attention that a child needs, and have no need of any financial support.

Conversely, a married parent where the partner is unavailable (in jail or deployed in the military for instance) could fairly be called a single parent: they are raising the child without the aid of another parent.

Also, I would not call either partner a "single parent" if they were living together and raising the child together but just weren't married. Even if they were not romatically involved, but were just jointly raising the child (i.e. providing food, shelter and attention).

In short legal martial status is not a defining characteristic of "single mother", which means that even if she said it under oath, it would not neccesarily be perjury.

Note: on reading your link, it seems that the "lie under oath" would be about when she divorced her first husband. That might possibly be sufficient to get a conviction for perjury, but I wouldn't call it a slam dunk case. You'd have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she didn't simply mis-speak or mis-remember. Absent a conviction it certainly isn't sufficient to bar her from office. I don't know if it would be legally sufficient under Texas law if she was convicted.

Edit: Did some reading, it looks like Texas law prevents felons from running for office, simple perjury is a misdemeanor.

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