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 they seek out, demand, receive, request, or agree to receive or request something of value, with the intent to use their 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, their 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.
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.
There are several defenses available against bribery because it is a specific intent crime. Some of the legal defenses for bribery are:
- No Intent: There can be no conviction of bribery if there was no intent to bribe. This means that a defendant cannot be convicted of bribery if they did not mean to influence the official through offering something of value.
- Intoxication: The defendant was too intoxicated to formulate the necessary intent to commit bribery.
- Entrapment: The criminal defendant did not have the original idea to commit bribery and was influenced by the police to commit the crime.
If you are involved in making or receiving a bribe, or if you have been harmed through an act of bribery, you should consult a 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.