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Bribery, as a criminal offense, is seen as paying money or offering gifts of value to public officials to engage in actions that bypass the usual legal processes and benefits the gift giver. It can also come from a public official who chooses to influence people who will testify in a trial orto influence jurors to gain a specific verdict.

Bribery of Government Organizations

            Public officials range from judges, court attorneys, members of Congress both state and national, and other government employees. Bribery can also extend to members of state and local governments, government-funded organizations, and members of American Indian tribal governments receiving over $10,000 on an annual basis.

Penalty of Bribery is jail time in state prison, ranging from two, three, to four years and, potentially, between $2,000 and $10,000 in a restitution fine

            Bribery of an executive officer falls under the California Penal Code Section 67 PC, while bribery of public employees and ministerial officers(sheriff, police chief, etc.) falls under California Penal Code Section 67.5 PC. In turn, bribery committed by ministerial officers, state employees, or appointees of the state of California would be covered by California Penal Code Section 68. The penalty is jail time in state prison, ranging from two, three, to four years and, potentially, between $2,000and $10,000 in a restitution fine.

Avoiding the Opportunity for Bribery – an Example

            One example of avoiding the appearance of bribery is when the President of the United States receives gifts from foreign dignitaries, he does not keep them as personal gifts. To avoid appearances of bribery, presidential gifts are accepted on behalf of the United States and is stored and managed by the National Archives and Records Administration.

If a president chooses to keep the gift, he must buy it personally at market value. Otherwise, all gifts made to a president go to the presidential library at the end of his term and after he builds and establishes his public library.

Commercial Bribery

            The same bribery principle stands for businesses as well, in that when a gift is offered to an employee or agent of a business, it should be refused to avoid the appearance of a bribe. Mail and wire fraud can also fall under this category and can be federally prosecuted. California prohibits commercial bribery and has set a gifting limit at $250 or less.

            Kickbacks are one type of commercial bribery whereby one company offers a payment to the buying agent of another company to secure an advantage over competing businesses. This leads to securing a contract for the agent’s company to continue business with the first company. There are no specific laws against this action unless it is proven that the arrangement is detrimental to the financial stability of the second company in this scenario.

            California is one of 36 states specifically addressing commercial bribery although most cases across the states will use the mail and wire fraud statutes to prosecute commercial bribery, so long as those factors were used during the bribery event. Bribery is unlawful when offered to a person who can act to change an outcome.

Author Photo

Kerry L. Armstrong

Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm, the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, in June 2007. Prior to that, he was employed as the senior associate attorney for a large criminal defense firm in San Diego for nine years, eventually being placed in charge of that firm’s branch office in downtown San Diego. At one point, he was managing six attorneys at that firm, as well as several support staff and law clerks. In 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys. In 2017, he was also selected for the Super Lawyers Top 50 in San Diego list. In 2014, he was selected as a Top Attorney by Los Angeles Magazine. Additionally, Mr. Armstrong was also named as a Top Attorney by the San Diego Business Journal in 2014.

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