Bribery and Corruption Law

What is Bribery and Corruption Law?

Bribery and corruption law consists of the criminal rules for dealing with people who attempt to buy influence with public officials and other decision-makers. The crime of bribery encompasses a broad scope of wrongful conduct. It covers bribes of cash, assets, services, favors, or anything else of value, whether delivered presently or in the future. Bribes can occur directly, or indirectly through third parties in an effort to disguise the true nature of the transaction. Even if a transaction is never completed, the mere offering or soliciting of a bribe is enough to incur criminal liability.

Laws prohibiting bribery can be used to punish both the person offering the bribe, and the person receiving it. These laws are designed to root out corruption in the public and private sectors. Defendants accused of taking bribes can include elected representatives, government officials, police officers, board members, labor union officers, sports referees and umpires, and business leaders. Cases involving judges, district attorneys, witnesses, and jurors can lead to particularly severe consequences, as corruption of these individuals is viewed as a direct threat to the integrity of the judicial system.

Common Issues in a Bribery Case

Those accused of bribery are often confused about the nature of the crime, especially since a number of similar offenses exist in every jurisdiction. While bribery statutes are worded in various ways, the most fundamental element concerns the defendant's intent. To be convicted of bribery, the defendant must have intended the benefit conferred to have an influential effect, leading the person receiving it to take action (or refrain from taking action) in the course of his or her official duties.

Gifts, loans, and other contributions to public officials can create the false impression of a corrupt motive. As long as the item was not intended to influence the recipient's conduct, then bribery has not occurred. Of course, a bare assertion of a legitimate purpose by the defendant at trial will not be persuasive in light of surrounding circumstances that suggest a wrongful intent. The law permits the jury at a bribery trial to infer the defendant's intent from the other facts and evidence in the case.

Even if the defendant has acted inappropriately, there is the possibility that the conduct does not amount to bribery, but rather some other related offense. To avoid confusion, focus on the specifics of the transaction. Bribery requires that property changed hands in an effort to influence a decision. By contrast, the crime of illegal gratuities is committed by conferring a benefit as a reward for past favorable conduct. Extortion is designed to compel future action through the use of a threat, blackmail involves paying someone to keep information concealed, and kickbacks are the return of a portion of a benefit received. Finally, the offense of graft is a form of political corruption that, unlike bribery, does not require the participation of anyone other than the elected official.

Federal Bribery Crimes and Statutes

Two major pieces of legislation exist to punish bribery of public officials at the federal level. Bribery of U.S. officials is covered by 18 USC ยง201. This section defines the crime of bribery in expansive terms, and it contains harsh penalties for offenders. Conviction on a single count can result in fines up to triple the amount of the bribe, as many as 15 years in prison, and a sanction disqualifying the defendant from holding public office in the future. The second piece of federal legislation, known as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), is a similar statute aimed at bribery of foreign officials by Americans.

Criminal Defense Strategies

Bribery convictions often depend upon surveillance recordings or other surreptitiously gathered evidence. While engaged in collecting this evidence, the police must act within the restraints of the 4th Amendment, and if they do not, the evidence can be suppressed. Suppression means the judge will enter a pre-trial order stating that the evidence cannot be used against the defendant. This affords defendants and their attorneys an opportunity to systematically attack improperly collected evidence on constitutional grounds. If enough of the evidence against the defendant can be suppressed prior to trial, the prosecution will have no choice but to dismiss the case.

The other primary source of evidence in a bribery case is the testimony of individuals who were involved in the scheme or have firsthand knowledge of the events. Thus, another common defense strategy in bribery cases is to discredit a witness's testimony. Defense attorneys accomplish this most effectively through a rigorous cross-examination. If the witness has made prior inconsistent statements, harbors a bias against the defendant, or is otherwise untrustworthy, a skilled cross-examiner will expose such issues in front of the jury.

Hiring a Lawyer to Defend Your Rights

Allegations of bribery can ruin your career and professional reputation. If you are convicted, you can face fines and jail as well. To ensure the best possible resolution, you need an attorney to protect your interests and negotiate with the government on your behalf. Schedule a consultation today.


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