Bribery of witnesses is covered under California Penal Code Sections 137 and 138. A “bribe” is basically described as when a witness changes their testimony, or makes an agreement to not appear at a trail in exchange for money or anything of value.
However, the California Penal Code does not contain a detailed definition for bribery. In general terms, in the context of a witness at a trail, it's considered a bribe if they decide to accept any sum of money or something that has value for either not testifying or providing a false account of a situation.
It's possible to be convicted of a bribery offense if you offer a bribe to a witness, or when a witness accepts a bribe. Penal Code Section 137 criminalizes the act of attempting to give, or promises to give a witness something in exchange for not testifying or lying under oath to benefit someone else.
It also covers the unlawful act of attempting to blackmail or threaten a witness. California Penal Code Section 138 primarily covers the act of a witness accepting a bribe. A witness also violates California law when they accept something of value.
Therefore, it's important to note that someone can be convicted of bribery if they just offer a bribe to a witness, and the witness can be convicted for receiving the bribe. A common example in Los Angeles County includes a situation when someone tells a potential witness that unless they refuse to testify, something will probably happen to their family.
Another example includes a situation where you are the witness to a major car accident and the police are asking you to come to the station to provide a formal statement. You approach the at-fault driver and tell them you will give a false statement about what happened in exchange for some money.
If you have been accused of bribery, you need to consult with a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney at Eisner Gorin LLP immediately. Don't make any statements to police as you might incriminate yourself. Now that we have covered a general overview of the crime of bribery, let's take a closer examination of the legal definitions, penalties, and defenses below.
Legal Definition of Bribery
California Penal Code Section 137 describes the crime of bribery as follows:
- (a) Anyone who gives, offers, or promises any witness about to give information to a crime to law enforcement, any bribe, on the understanding their testimony will be influenced is guilty of a felony offense. (b) Anyone who attempts by force, threat of force, or by fraud to induce another person to give false testimony, or withhold factual testimony to law enforcement is guilty of a felony offense, punishable by imprisonment of up to four years.
California Penal Code Section 138 describes the crime of bribery as follows:
- (a) Anyone who gives, offers, promises a witness who is about to be called to a trial, a bribe, on the understanding they will not attend any trial is guilty of a felony offense. (b) Any witness who is about to be called, who receives, or offers to receive a bribe, on the understanding their testimony will be influenced thereby, or they will be absent from the trail where their testimony is required, is guilty of a felony offense.
As you can see above, Penal Code Section 137 makes it a felony crime to give, offer, or promise to give a witness anything of value with the intent to influence their testimony. It also prohibits using force, threats, or fraud, to influence a witness to give false testimony of a crime, or withhold information.
This is very similar to extortion under Penal Code Section 518. California Penal Code Section 138 makes it a felony crime for a witness to receive a bribe to influence their testimony at trial. Contact our Los Angeles criminal defense law firm if you need more specific information.
Bribery Elements of the Crime
In order for the Los Angeles County prosecutor to convict you of giving or offering a bribe to a witness in violation of California Penal Code Section 137, they must be able to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the following elements of the crime:
- You gave, offered to give, made a promise of a bribe to a witness, or someone about to be called as a witness to give information to law enforcement about a crime, and;
- You acted with corrupt intent to persuade them to agree the bribe would influence the testimony or information.
In order to be convicted of bribery under California Penal Code Section 138, the Los Angeles County prosecutor must prove the following:
- You were a witness, or someone who was about to be called as a witness;
- You received or agreed to receive a bribe;
- When you received the bribe, you implied with corrupt intent it would unlawfully influence your testimony, or cause you not to attend the trial.
As stated above, it's important to understand that a bribe, under the context of PC 137 and PC 138, is defined as a benefit, advantage, or anything of current or future value that is provided for the cooperation of a witness to give false testimony, withhold information, or even refusing to testify. If you are convicted of bribery, it's a felony crime and you can be sent to a California state prison for up to four years.
Bribery Related Offenses
- California Penal Code Sections 67 and 68 – Bribery of Public Employees,
- California Penal Code Sections 85 and 86 – Bribery of Elected Officials,
- California Penal Code Sections 92 and 93 – Bribery of Judges or Jurors,
- California Penal Code Section 641.3 PC - Commercial Bribery,
- California Penal Code Section 136.1 – Dissuading a Witness or Victim.
Legal Defenses for Bribery
Our Los Angeles criminal attorneys can use a variety of effective legal defenses on your behalf to defend you against bribery charges under California Penal Code Sections 137 and 138. Every case is unique and first requires a close examination of the specific details.
The most common legal defenses include the following:
Lack of corrupt intent – As stated above, one of the important elements of the crime for bribery is the prosecutor must prove that you acted with “corrupt intent.”
In some cases, our criminal defense lawyers might be able to present a successful argument you never offered or accepted a bribe, or did not possess corrupt intent. This critical element of intent is often difficult for a prosecutor to prove. If our lawyers can cast some reasonable doubt, you have a chance of avoiding a conviction.
Entrapment – In certain situations, our attorneys might be able to present evidence that shows you only committed the bribery offense because the police unlawfully lured you into doing it. In other words, you would not have committed this crime if they police had not induced you committing the offense you would have otherwise not done so.
Coercion – In specific situations, arguing you only committed the bribery offense may be possible because someone else coerced you. This means another person persuaded you to offer or accept the bribe by using force or threats.
Contact a Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer
If you have been accused of bribery of a witness in violation of California Penal Code Sections 137 or 138, you need to contact a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney at Eisner Gorin LLP.
We have a track record of success and will aggressively defend you. The first step is to let our lawyers review the details of your case.