Crime of Bribery

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What Is Bribery?

Bribery is the offering, promising, or giving of something of value, normally money or an expensive item, with the intent to wrongfully influence the action of a public official. On the receiving end, a public official is guilty of bribery if she seeks out, demands, receives, requests, or agrees to receive or request something of value, with the intent to use her public office as a means to get that item of value.

Bribery is committed at the moment of offering or asking – it does not matter whether something of value was ever given. There must be an understanding between the two parties – what the law calls a “quid pro quo,” or “this for that.” The public official must understand that by accepting the item of value, his vote, judgment, recommendation, opinion, or any other public act of discretion will be influenced. The action must be related to the official’s public position. 

Crime of Bribery Overview

In a democracy, elected public officials are supposed to act on behalf of their constituents – the citizens of their community. If a public official does something that favors only a few individuals, especially the richest ones, that action will contribute to a break-down of democracy. Poor and middle-class citizens will lose respect for their community leaders and the government as a whole, leading to a breakdown of the government and anarchy. 

In the United States, bribery is not as common as it is in some other countries, where bribery is an essential part of how the government functions. Yet, examples do abound of city inspectors turning a blind eye to shoddy construction work or to hazardous waste dumped into a river in exchange for a personal benefit. In one recent case, a public official was found guilty of bribery when he improperly influenced the Superintendent of Liquor Licenses to give a store owner a liquor license.

What Can Happen to Me If I Am Accused of Bribery?

Bribery is a crime, and thus the punishment is given in accordance with state law. In many states, bribery is a second or third degree felony, resulting in prison time of more than a year. Prison time of up to 10 years and/or $20,000 fine may also be imposed depending on the state and the severity of the harm caused by the actual act of bribery. The social impact of being convicted of bribery can also be severe because people will no longer see you as trustworthy.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you are involved in making or receiving a bribe, or if you have been harmed through an act of bribery, you should consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An attorney can help you understand your right and can help you present a defense for your case if you are taken to court.

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Last Modified: 09-10-2014 02:57 PM PDT

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