Bribery may be most commonly associated with politicians and police, but it doesn’t have to involve shady criminal types and corrupt public officials. In fact, there are many laws covering bribery in the California State Penal Code, covering everything from workers in commercial businesses to the parties involved in the state’s justice system. Nearly everyone accused of offering or accepting a bribe will face felony charges, so always speak with a criminal defense attorney if you are facing these serious charges.
What Qualifies as Bribery?
California law defines a bribe as “anything of value or advantage, present or prospective, or any promise or undertaking to give any, asked, given, or accepted, with a corrupt intent to influence, unlawfully, the person to whom it is given, in his or her action, vote, or opinion, in any public or official capacity.” While that definition is a bit wordy, that’s to help ensure that it covers all possible cases of illegal bribery, which are more precisely defined in individual penal codes.
Notably, in most cases, it does not matter if the offer or request for a bribe was successful or if the other party fulfilled their part of the deal. Merely offering a bribe or requesting someone make them is enough to violate the law. Similarly, while most people envision these situations involving briefcases filled with cash, no money needs to be involved, even offering to do someone a favor can violate the law.
What are the Different Types of Bribery in California?
California has multiple penal codes addressing different bribery offenses. Most people accused of bribing someone face charges for offering money, property, or other benefits to:
- an executive officer, meaning a law enforcement official or District Attorney, 67 (PC)
- a legislator, 85 (PC)
- a judge, judicial officer, or juror, 92 (PC)
- a witness, 137(a) (PC)
- a local government official, including a member of a city council, board of trustees, board of supervisors, or any public corporation, 165 (PC)
- an athlete, coach, or referee in a sporting event, 337(b) (PC)
The state has separate penal codes for those who have illegally asked for or accepted bribes, specifically:
- an executive officer, ministerial officer (such as a clerk or inspector, or a public employee who works for the state of California, 68 (PC)
- a legislator or other elected official, 86 (PC)
- a judge, judicial officer, or juror 93 (PC)
- a witness, 138 (PC)
- an athlete, coach, or referee in a sporting event 337(c) (PC)
- any employee 641.3 (PC)
With so many different charges, these laws can be very complex. If you have any questions about the state’s bribery laws, contact a defense attorney as soon as possible if you believe you may be under investigation for one of these offenses.
Is Bribery a Felony?
While there are many different forms of bribery under the law, the sentence is the same for almost all of these crimes. Most of these offenses are felonies with a maximum penalty of four years in prison, though probation is also a possible sentence at the judge’s discretion. If the bribe was not completed, offenders will face a fine between $2,000 and $10,000. If it was received, the fine could be up to double the amount of the bribe or $10,000, whichever is greater.
The two exceptions are sports bribes, charged under 337 (PC), and commercial bribes, filed under 641.3 (PC). These two offenses are wobblers, meaning they can be filed as a misdemeanor or felony. As a felony, these offenses are punishable by up to three years in prison, while the maximum sentence for misdemeanors is one year in jail.
In addition to incarceration and fines, those convicted of these offenses will also suffer employment consequences. Public officials, such as judges or legislators, will lose their position and be ineligible to get it back if convicted of bribery in California. Though there is no law requiring private employees to lose their jobs, most will likely also find themselves out of work, and they could potentially lose any professional licenses they hold.
Fighting Bribery Charges
Bribery is often difficult to prosecute because it relies on a specific criminal intent. Since people rarely write a letter saying, “Here is the money I am bribing you with in exchange for you doing what I want,” it is often difficult to prove that someone wrongfully intended to influence another person. Many of these cases come down to the jurors’ opinions of whether or not the defendant had criminal intent.
For example, if you operate a landscaping company and offered free services to a politician voting on an issue that could affect your business, it may look unethical. However, it may still be difficult for the prosecution to secure a bribery conviction unless they can prove you had a corrupt or wrongful intention in offering the free services. In this case, your defense lawyer might be able to convince the jury that your efforts were not made for the purposes of bribery but that you wanted the lawmaker to witness how the proposed law could affect your business.
If you have been accused of accepting or making a bribe in California, please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation with defense attorney Peter M. Liss.