According to Chapter 11 of the USC, bribery is an act where an individual directly or indirectly gives, offers or promises an item of value to any type of public official to influence any sort of public act. (Cornell.edu). Legal precedent at the federal level has shown that the accused does not have to be actually in office when the offense is alleged to have occurred; he can be a candidate for office or office holder-elect. Bribery can be charged as a federal crime usually when the person who is targeted is any manner of federal official. This can include elected and appointed federal officials.
The purpose of federal and state bribery charges is to protect the democratic process from corruption and criminal activity that could affect election outcomes. It is common for bribery to be prosecuted as part of a much larger corruption fraud or conspiracy case. This is because bribery requires collusion and cooperation of the official who is being bribed. Some bribery investigations at the federal level have required the official to apparently accept a bribe to get evidence for the prosecution, but this is not always so.
Bribery Crimes and Charges
The federal statutes recognize several types of bribery, as do the Massachusetts state statutes. Generally, any person who intends to provide a public official elected or not an item of value to gain an advantage in an official matter could be prosecuted at the state or federal level for bribery. There are several major types of bribery that can vary the length of the sentence upon conviction:
- Bribery to have an influence on public official testimony under oath, which can also include potential charges of perjury and contempt of court.
- Bribery for performing a public act, which also could result in a charge of public corruption or conspiracy.
- Bribery to obtain testimony of a witness.
The party who engages in the act of bribery and the official who accepts it can both be punished under state and federal law. Any form of bribery that relates to activities of a court can also include a serious charge of obstruction of justice. Most states have laws that outlaw bribery, but a federal bribery charge often relates to the bribery act crossing one state into another. A federal bribery charge also can be brought for trying to bribe public officials in the federal government.
For federal offenses, 18 USCS 201(b) states a possible sentence of up to 15 years in prison and disqualification from holding future public office. The federal judge and jury can use discretion to determine if those who were involved in the bribery may be barred from holding public office again.
Massachusetts Bribery Penalties
The definition of bribery and penalties in Massachusetts are laid out in the Conflict of Interest Law, section 2: Bribery (G.L. c. 268A, s2).
It states bribery in the state is when someone indirectly or directly and corruptly gives something of value to any county, state or municipal employee, or to any person who is chosen to be such an employer, member of the judiciary, or promises anything to the employee or member of the judiciary.
The crime of bribery in Massachusetts can be punished with a fine up to $100,000, a prison sentence of up to 10 years, or a term in a jail or house of correction for up to 2.5 years. (Mass.gov).
Also, if you are convicted of bribery and are a public official, you may be barred from office again in the future.
If you are accused of bribery in Massachusetts or at the federal level, you do not have many defense options, but an experienced criminal defense attorney such as Attorney Nathan may be able to help.
One of the major lines of defense on a bribery charge is entrapment of the accused. Generally, courts are not accepting this as a legitimate defense, but there are limited cases where it could be used. There needs to be ample evidence that the official was induced by an individual, who did or did not have knowledge of the entrapment operation and was forced by officials to allow a bribe.
Also, the accused may argue that all elements that illustrate a bribe occurred have not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Further, the person who gave the bribe may argue that he was coerced and was forced to commit the crime.
Many bribery cases occur across the United States annually. Some notable recent cases where federal officials were involved are:
- In 2013, NY state senator Malcolm Smith was placed under arrest by federal officials, as well as city councilman Daniel Halloran. Both were accused of paying and taking bribes to get Smith onto the ballot for New York City mayor.
- In a vitally important bribery case to highlight the difference between a donation and bribe, three councilmen in San Diego pled not guilty in 2003 to a federal corruption charge related to receiving campaign contributions from a bar owner after agreeing to try to repeal the ‘no touch’ law in the city. This law outlawed certain activities at entertainment venues with nudity.
What to Do If You’re Charged
If you face a state or federal bribery charge from the US government or the state of Massachusetts, you should get a good criminal defense attorney as soon as feasible. Remember: The state and federal government has large financial and personnel resources and they will go after you aggressively to convict you for bribery.
Attorney Geoffrey Nathan has a strong record of success defending clients from bribery charges both in state and federal courts. He could prevent the prosecution from getting the case to trial by negotiating a deal that will limit your sentence. Or, he has an excellent record in representing the accused at trial. For a criminal defense legal consultation, please contact him at (617) 472-5775.
- Conflict of Interest Law Section 2 Bribery. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mass.gov/service-details/conflict-of-interest-law-section-2-bribery-gl-c-268a-ss-2
- Bribery Overview 18 USC. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/part-I/chapter-11