Bribery may be most commonly associated with politicians and police, but as the recent college admissions scandal has reminded us, it doesn’t have to involve shady criminal types and corrupt public officials. In fact, bribery laws in California are written intentionally vaguely in order to cover all cases of bribery. If you have been accused of accepting or making a bribe, you will almost always face felony charges, which is why it is so important to contact a Vista white collar crimes lawyer as soon as possible.
Bribery Laws in California Defined
Typically we think of bribery as paying a public official to get government business but asking for any favor from a public official in return for a promise of something of value is bribery. A driver accused of operating a vehicle under the influence who asks the police to let them go in return for a charitable contribution to the police foundation is guilty of bribery.
In fact, 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. In fact, there are a number of more specific bribery laws in California covering specific situations, for example:
- commercial bribery
- bribery of witnesses
- bribery of judges and jurors
- bribery of supervisors and public corporations
- bribery of legislators
- bribery of public employees
In the majority of cases, it does not matter if the bribe was successful or not. If someone attempts to make a bribe or if someone asks someone to pay them a bribe, charges can still be filed. Also, no money needs to be exchanged. Even offering to do someone a favor can be considered a bribe, so, for example, if a prosecutor says she’ll drop charges against a local politician’s son if he agrees to change the zoning laws in her neighborhood, the prosecutor can be charged with bribery even if the politician refused.
If you’re uncertain whether or not a particular action could be considered a bribe, it is often better to discuss the matter with your Vista bribery defense attorney before doing something that could land you in legal hot water.
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 an official. 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 corrupt, but unless the prosecution can prove that you had a corrupt or wrongful intention in offering the free services, it may be difficult to secure a bribery conviction. After all, your Vista white collar crime attorney could just argue that you were simply trying to illustrate how the change in laws may affect your business. In many cases, these matters come down to the jury’s opinion of whether or not the defendant had a criminal intent.
Penalties for Breaking Bribery Laws in California
While there are many different forms of bribery in CA, most cases are felonies. Depending on the specific type of charge, you could face a sentence of two to four years in prison and a large fine. If the bribe was not actually completed, then you could face between $2,000 and $10,000 in fines. If it was received, then the fine could be up to double the amount of the bribe or $10,000, whichever is greater. Public officials will also lose their position and be ineligible to get it back —though most private employees who accept a bribe related to their position will probably also find themselves out of work as well, although there are no laws requiring this.
If you have been accused of accepting or making a bribe, please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation with Vista bribery defense lawyer Peter M. Liss.
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