Cases of bribery are common in the State of California, which form a significant part of the cases we deal with at Leah Legal. Penalties associated with this offense can be severe, and they include a long time behind bars and hefty penalties. Bribery cases involving influential persons and those holding public offices could significantly affect their jobs and social status.
We know that cases of false accusations can thrive for such a severe offense as bribery. We also know that people can misinterpret an innocent act of kindness and mistake it as bribery. That is why we are here, to help people that are facing bribery charges in Los Angeles, California.
We offer guidance, advice, and legal representation to protect your rights and ensure that you get justice in the end.
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Legal Understanding of California Bribery Offense
Bribery means offering or accepting anything valuable in exchange for influencing public or government officers or employees. Bribes can take many forms, including gifts and cash payments. In most cases, bribes are taken or issued to influence or trigger favorable treatment. An example is in the case where a public officer asks or receives cash payments to help a business person acquire a government contract. Privileges, favors, services, property, and various goods have been used before as bribes.
In the state of California, bribery applies to any effort to influence a public officer in the line of their work through corruption. It can be in the form of gifts or money. California bribery law is far-reaching and includes various laws with different Sections of the state’s Penal Code, applying to separate entities.
The reason why there are many statutes in the state dealing with bribery is that the general public considers it a repugnant crime. It is not right to cheat the public out of straightforward government services. That is why anyone found guilty of bribery is likely to face severe penalties, which may include a long time of imprisonment and hefty penalties.
The law targets both parties in the deal. It will apply to the person who proposes the bribe and one who seeks the bribe. In most cases, it doesn’t matter whether the offender received or made the bribe. The thought about giving or receiving a bribe and taking action on it is enough to convict a person of bribery.
Again, it will not matter whether or not money explicitly changed hands. An inferred bribe will also count, for instance, through what was said and done or through what was not said or not done.
Elements of California Bribery
There are specific elements to this offense that a prosecutor must prove beyond reasonable doubt for an offender to be found guilty of bribery. These are:
- That the offender gave or offered to provide a public officer a bribe
- That a public officer asked, received, or agreed to accept a bribe
Bribe, in this case, will mean something valuable that was given or received with a fraudulent intent to impact an official issue.
Just like any other criminal case, the prosecutor will have the burden of proof on a bribery case. To understand the elements of this crime better, we shall look at each aspect separately:
California bribery law mainly covers public officers. Public officers, in this case, will include the following:
- Police chiefs
- District attorneys
- Deputy city coroners
- Police officers
- City councilmen/women
- California state senators
- Members of the board of supervisors
- Apparent Authority
The public officer could have technical power in a particular case or not. What matters is that the officer acted within a general range of their jurisdiction.
The officer and the person offering or giving bribe does not have to agree to the idea of bribery. A person can still face bribery charges even if the person they were trying to bribe did not agree to it. Example: An attorney, working on the defense of a person convicted of fraud, attempted to influence a witness not to show up in court. The witness pretends to go along with that idea while all along he/she is cooperating with law enforcement officers. The attorney will still face bribery charges even though the witness did not accept the bribe in the end.
Something valuable: Value is a comprehensive term. In this case, though, the inherent value of the gift or money issued out or received is not essential. What matters is that what was issued out or offered was of a significant amount.
With a corrupt intent: the crime of bribery has a specific intention. A person could not be convicted of bribery in California unless they acted with a corrupt intent. The prosecutor must be able to prove that the defendant acted with wrongful or harmful purpose. The question is, how is it possible for a prosecutor to demonstrate what is in another person's mind?
California laws allow a prosecutor to use a wide range of substantiation to support his/her claims. Evidence, in this case, could be direct or circumstantial. The prosecutor can present it in the form of videotapes, recordings, and witness accounts. After that, the burden will fall on the judge and the jury to determine what happens in every case.
An official matter: Trying to influence any official matter with a gift or money will be considered as bribery, punishable by law. Any official matter will be applicable in this case, including a decision, vote, or opinion.
Note that bribery laws in California do not specify the exact tradeoff that could result in the crime of bribery. The offense can be committed in more ways than one and can be used to gain favors in more than one area. A person can bribe to obtain general or specific support.
California Bribery and Extortion
California bribery has very similar grounds with another crime in the state, provided under Section 518 of California Penal Code, Extortion. However, both offenses are very different and are charged separately. In both cases, a person gets another to do something. Their difference lies in the leverage they use to make both crimes happen. In a bribery case, the advantage is money, but in extortion, the leverage is fear.
Example: A film manager offers a significant donation to a county official hoping to get an affirmative vote in a deal involving filming rights. This will be a straight case of bribery. However, if the executive intimidates to uncover the corrupt conduct of the office if he does not get an affirmative vote, this will be charged as extortion.
Types of Bribery Crimes in California
Bribery of or by Executive Officers or Public Employee
If you are an employee or a public official, and you receive payments in the course of your job, you can face bribery charges. The law will apply the same to chiefs of police, district attorneys, traffic clerks, building inspectors, among others. This law is provided under Sections 67 & 68 and California Penal Code.
Section 67 of California Statutes covers bribing executive officers. According to this law, it is a felony offense if a person was to offer or give an executive officer something valuable with a corrupt intent to influence the officer’s stand in an official matter. Executive officers covered under this law include:
- District attorneys
- Police officers
- Police chiefs
- Deputy city coroners
Section 67.5 of California Laws covers bribery of public employees and ministerial officers. This section of the law makes it a felony offense for anyone to offer to give or give a public employee or ministerial officer something valuable with a corrupt resolve to influence their stand on an official matter. Examples of public employees include:
- Traffic clerks
- Building inspectors
A public officer is an executive if they have discretion in their job. A ministerial is an officer who follows instructions from a person in higher authority.
Section 68 of California Laws covers bribery by public employees and officers. This section of the law makes it illegal for a ministerial officer, a federal employee, or an executive to ask, receive, or even agree to a bribe. A bribe, as defined above, is something valuable that is given or received with a corrupt resolve to influence an official matter.
Bribery of or by Legislators and Elected Officials
Section 85 of the California Penal Code makes it illegal for anyone to bribe or offer a bribe to legislators to influence their choice in an official matter. The offense is a felony in the state of California. The people covered under this section of the law include:
- State legislators
- City legislative bodies’ members
- County legislative bodies’ members
- School district legislative bodies’ members
Section 85 of the California Penal Code also makes it illegal for a person to use corrupt conduct like deceit or menace to coerce legislators to withhold or give a vote on an important issue. Use of force or threats to oblige a public officer to do something official can also face prosecution under the California Extortion law, provided under Section 518.
Section 86, on the other hand, covers bribery by legislators. According to this law, it is a felony offense for a legislator to agree to receive, ask, or receive something valuable with a corrupt resolve to influence their vote in an official matter.
This same section of the law makes it illegal for any legislator to condition his/her vote on the vote of another legislator.
Bribery by or of Judicial Officers Judges, or Jurors
Section 92 of the California Penal Code makes it a felony offense for a person to offer to give or give a judicial officer something valuable with a corrupt intent to influence their decision on an official matter. Judicial officers covered under this section of law include:
Chapter 93, on the other hand, covers bribery by jurors and judicial officers. According to this law, it is a felony offense for judicial officers to receive, ask, or agree to take a bribe to decide in favor of the person offering the bribe. These are the people charged with determining the outcome of court cases. This section of the law covers the same people covered under Section 92.
Bribery of or by Witnesses
Bribery of witnesses about their testimony is illegal as provided under Section 137(a) of California PEN. Any person who offers or promises to provide something valuable to a witness to influence their testimony can face a felony conviction. The same law makes it illegal for a person to use fraud, or threats of force to make a witness withhold information or give false testimony. The latter could be prosecuted as extortion and charged under Section 518.
Bribery of witnesses concerning trial attendance is provided under Section 138(a) of California PEN. Any person who provides or offers to provide a bribe to a witness to influence their presence to trial will face charges under this law.
Penalties for California Bribery
Bribery is a severe offense in the state of California. Because of the nature of the crime, the offender can face severe consequences if found guilty. The results may include payment of hefty fines, imprisonment for several years, and the possibility of losing one's position or job. The crime of bribery is always convicted as a felony in the state, unless in cases where the value of the bribe was lower than $400.
Generally, if convicted of bribery, the offender will face two to four years of incarceration. The court will also require you to pay fines in this manner:
- Between two thousand and ten thousand dollars in case the bribe wasn’t received
- The exact amount of bribe or $2000 on the minimum, the one that is greater, in case the bribe was received
- Any amount that is large or more than double the amount of bribe or $10,000, the one that is greater in case the bribe was received
Also, public officers will be required to forfeit their office with no possibility of coming back if they face a conviction of bribery in the course of their duty.
Legal Defenses for California Bribery
Penalties for California bribery are somewhat harsh and will significantly affect several aspects of your life if you get convicted. That is why you need the best legal defense you can garner. Finding an excellent criminal defense attorney will make a significant difference in the outcome of your case. Fortunately, there are several defense strategies that your attorney can use to defend you against bribery charges. Some of these are:
No corrupt intent:
As mentioned above, the crime of bribery is a specific intent one. It means that an offender cannot be convicted if they did not have any corrupt intent. If you are facing bribery charges and you did not intend to influence any official matter corruptly, the court may not find you guilty of the charges. Your defense attorney could argue misunderstanding to explain why you got arrested in the first place. It could also be that you were set up or drunk.
Note that in most bribery cases, the jury will go with the side it believes. If your defense attorney can demonstrate to the court that your actions were misunderstood, you may be set free.
Fortunately, voluntary intoxication is usable as a legal defense against bribery charges in California. Your attorney will have to prove to the court that you were drunk though and that because of intoxication, you could not formulate the necessary intent to commit the offense of bribery.
The idea was a mistake
This defense could be used if the thought of offering a bribe occurred in a spur-of-the-moment. Depending on the circumstances of your case, the court may accept the fact that it was just a mistake and drop or reduce the charges. However, the account of how that happened is needed to prove to the court that you did not intend to offer or promise to bribe a public officer.
In California, entrapment occurs when an innocent individual is induced into committing a crime that he/she could not have committed. With this defense, your attorney could argue that you were harassed, pressured, or threatened to bribe a public officer. As long as the court understands that the idea to bribe was not yours, but from the law enforcement officers, your charges could be dropped or reduced.
A conviction of bribery will change many aspects of your life. Other than spending years in prison and losing a substantial amount of money to court fines, you may lose your job and position in society. You do not have to go through all that because we at Leah Legal can help. We have a strong team of criminal defense attorneys who have excellent skills and experience in California bribery laws. Our team will be willing and ready to take up your case if you are charged in Los Angeles CA. Call us at 818-484-1100 and let us come up with a strong defense to help you get the most favorable outcome.