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Bribery Charges in California

What Is Bribery?

The concept of bribery may seem straightforward, but in California, the legal definition is detailed and specific. Under the California Penal Code, bribery is defined as giving, receiving, offering or soliciting anything of value intending to influence the actions of a public official or other person in a position of trust.

Bribery can occur in both public sectors, such as government, and private sectors, such as corporate environments. The distinction between public and private bribery is critical, as the law treats each category with different levels of severity and implications. Public bribery often involves elected officials or government employees, while private bribery might involve individuals in the private sector who hold no official government position but are entrusted with decision-making authority.

California Bribery Laws

The California Penal Code outlines several sections that pertain to bribery, including sections that address bribery of executive officers, public corporations, legislators, and witnesses, among others. Each section specifies the prohibited conduct and the requisite intent to influence an official act or decision:

  • Penal Code §§ 67 and 68 criminalize bribery of or by an executive officer, which refers to a person who is a government official.
  • Penal Code §§ 85 and 86 criminalize bribery of anyone who is considered a legislator on the state, city, or county level, as well as school district legislators.
  • Penal Code §§ 92 and 93 criminalize the bribery of judges, jurors, and other people involved in legal proceedings.
  • Penal Code §§ 137 and 138 criminalize the bribery of or by a witness of a crime.
  • Penal Code § 641.2 criminalizes commercial bribery, which occurs when an employee takes a bribe in exchange for using their position for that person’s benefit.

Is It Hard to Prove Bribery?

For the prosecution to secure a bribery conviction in California, certain elements must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. First and foremost is the element of intent. The individual accused of bribery must have acted with the specific intent to influence the decision or action of another person in their official capacity. This means that there must be a clear understanding that the offer or acceptance of something of value was done with the purpose of altering an official outcome.

There must also be evidence of a benefit or advantage sought by the person offering the bribe, which could range from preferential treatment in business dealings to evasion of legal consequences. The exchange of value is another critical element in bribery cases. This exchange does not necessarily have to be monetary; it can include any item or service that holds value to the recipient.

The prosecution must show that there was an actual or promised transfer of this value between the parties involved. It is also important to note that the intended result of the bribe does not need to be achieved for a charge to be valid.

The mere agreement or offer to exchange value for influence is sufficient to constitute a bribery offense. These stringent requirements are in place to deter corruption and maintain the integrity of public and private institutions.

Criminal Penalties for Bribery Offenses

Those found guilty of bribery can face a range of consequences, including hefty fines and significant prison time. The exact penalties vary depending on the circumstances of the offense, such as the amount of the bribe and the role of the individual involved.

Excluding commercial bribery, bribery is considered a felony offense. Commercial bribery is a misdemeanor or felony based on the amount of money involved in the bribe. If the bribe was worth over $1,000, then you can be charged with a felony that is punishable by up to three years of imprisonment. Bribery involving $1,00 or less is charged as a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to a year of imprisonment.

In addition to the criminal penalties, individuals convicted of bribery may also be barred from holding any office in California. The fallout from a bribery conviction isn't limited to criminal penalties; there are also significant civil and professional repercussions. Individuals found guilty of bribery may face civil suits, especially if the bribe led to financial losses or damages for other parties.

These civil actions can compound the financial burden on the defendant, with settlements and judgments potentially reaching substantial amounts. Moreover, the stigma of a bribery conviction can lead to the loss of professional licenses, effectively ending careers in certain fields, such as law, medicine, or public service.

Quality Legal Representation

If you or a loved one are facing such charges, it is in your best interest to obtain reliable counsel as soon as possible. Corrigan Welbourn Stokke, APLC offers clients comprehensive counsel in white-collar crime cases, including bribery cases.

Contact us online or via phone at (949) 251-0330 to get started on your case today.