Chapter 11 of the United States Code defines bribery as any act in which a person directly or indirectly gives, offers, or promises anything of value to a public official in order to influence any official act. Precedent has shown that the individual in question does not need to be an elected official at the time of the offense: He or she can be a candidate or an officeholder-elect. Bribery becomes a federal crime most commonly when the individual who is the target of bribery is a federal official. This includes both elected and appointed public officials.
Federal bribery laws are intended to protect the integrity of the democratic process from the influence of criminal activity. Bribery is often prosecuted as part of a larger fraud or corruption case since, as a general rule, bribery requires the collusion of the official who is bribed. Although some federal bribery investigations have required officials to seem to accept bribes in order to pursue evidence for prosecution, this is not usually the case.
Bribery Crimes & Charges
Federal bribery laws recognize a variety of different individual acts of bribery. Speaking broadly, any individual who plans to give an elected official any item of value in order to gain an illicit advantage in any official matter may be prosecuted for bribery. However, there are several different types of bribery which may influence the prosecution and sentencing:
- Bribery, or the demand of bribery, to influence official testimony under official oath, which may also include charges of perjury, contempt of court, and so on.
- Bribery, or the demand of bribery, for the performance of a public duty, which may also result in charges of public corruption, conspiracy, and so on.
- Bribery, or the demand of bribery, in order to secure testimony as a witness, as distinct from other forms of testimony that are also taken under oath.
Both the party who engages in bribery and the party that accepts a bribe may be punished under federal bribery laws. Any bribery that relates to the activities of a court of law may also include charges of obstruction of justice. States often have laws prohibiting bribery, but a federal bribery case may stem from crossing state boundaries in order to commit bribery, as well as attempting to bribe public officials at the federal level. Punishment for bribery includes fines as well as imprisonment.
Bribery Sentencing Guidelines
The fine attached to the charge of bribery is generally understood to be related to the amount of the bribe. In most cases, including federal cases, the fine will not exceed the value of the bribe. In addition to this fine, 18 USCS § 201(b) allows for up to fifteen years of imprisonment as well as disqualification from holding public office. Federal judges and grand juries may use their discretion to the maximum extent permitted by law in order to determine whether those involved in bribery should be disqualified from office-holding in the future.
Bribery Statute of Limitations
Federal crimes are covered by 18 USC 3282, which states nobody may be tried, prosecuted, or face any punishment for any noncapital offense unless the indictment is found or information is instituted within five years of the commission of the offense. If the alleged act of bribery was not compounded with capital federal crimes, including violent offenses such as murder, then it may be possible for the statute of limitations to expire without prosecution.
Bribery cases take place in the United States and around the world every year. Some recent cases involving federal officials include:
- In April, 2013, New York State Senator Malcolm A. Smith was arrested by federal authorities along with City Councilman Daniel J. Halloran III, a Democrat and a Republican respectively. The two were suspected of taking and paying bribes in order to get Smith onto the New York City mayoral ballot. (The New York Times)
- In one of the most important cases yet for understanding the legal differences between donations and bribes, three San Diego councilmen pled “not guilty” in 2003 to federal corruption charges stemming from allegedly receiving campaign contributions from a nightclub owner after agreeing to work toward the repeal of the city’s “no touch” law, which prohibits certain activities at nude entertainment venues. (Los Angeles Times)
Bribery Quick Links & References
- Theft & Bribery Codes and Statues for Federal and State Government
- Overview of Bribery from the U.S. Office of Government Ethics
- Understanding the Difference Between California State and Federal Bribery Laws
- Global Implications of Recent Federal Anti-Bribery Laws
- Anti-Bribery Law Overview at Yale University