California and Federal Bribery Laws

California Penal Codes 7, 67, 67.5

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California and Federal Bribery Laws

Bribery is typically defined as trying to influence an official by offering something of value to him or her so that he or she changes actions as part of his or her official work. There are both state and federal laws that may apply to this crime.

State Laws

In California, a bribe[1] occurs when a public official is offered something of value in an attempt to influence him or her to take certain action as part of his or her official work in favor of the defendant. California targets both the act of someone offering a bribe as well as the act of the public official taking the bribe. Bribery charges can be filed even if the bribe was not accepted or received. Some of the state criminal charges related to bribery include:

Bribery of an Executive Officer

This crime[2] criminalizes giving a bribe to an executive officer for the purpose of influencing his or her act. An executive officer includes police officers, commissioners and deputy sheriffs.

Bribery of a Ministerial Officer or Public Employee

This crime[3] involves giving a bribe to a ministerial officer such as a coroner or building inspector with the intent of influencing his or her act to the defendant’s favor.

Bribery by Executive/Ministerial Officers and Public Employees

This crime criminalizes the act of the executive, ministerial officer or public employee requesting or agreeing to receive a bribe. The intent behind accepting the bribe is to benefit the defendant in exchange for him or her acting or deciding in a way that benefits the person making the bribe[4].

Potential Penalties

The penalties for bribery are severe and designed to prevent people from committing this crime. Bribery is typically considered a felony and carries with it a possible term of imprisonment in a state prison for two to four years[5]. Additionally, a defendant may be required to pay restitution in the amount double the amount offered in the bribe or $10,000, whichever is greater, if the bribe was received. A public official who is convicted of bribery will be required to forfeit his or her public office.

Possible Defenses

Because bribery is considered a specific intent crime, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant had the requisite corrupt intent. If the defendant was not trying to wrongfully influence the individual to whom he or she offered some type of benefit, this element is not met and the defendant cannot be convicted. For example, if funds were given to some type of public official but they were a loan or a gift that had no intent to influence the acts of the official, such intent is not present. Other factors can affect a person’s ability to form the requisite intent, such as being too intoxicated.

Another possible defense is entrapment[6]. If the defendant had no original idea to bribe the official but was only forced into this arrangement by undercover law enforcement, entrapment may be raised as a defense.  

Federal Law

Bribery may be charged as a federal offense in some situations. Federal laws may refer to the term “graft[7]” or “bribery[8].” A graft may involve a corrupted public official who fraudulently obtains or uses public money. The Bribery of Public Officials criminalizes the following situations[9]:

  • One public official influencing another official to conduct an act contrary to his or her public duty
  • Anyone bribing a public official to influence his or her testimony under oath before a court, tribunal or committed
  • Anyone demanding a bribe in order to be influenced while providing testimony under oath
  • Anyone offering a bribe for the performance of a public duty
  • Anyone demanding a bribe for the discharge of a public duty

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 contains a number of provisions related to bribery of foreign officials. This Act was passed to make it illegal to make payments to foreign officials in order to obtain or retain business. The Act applies to individuals and companies. This Act included an amendment involving the International Anti-Bribery Act of 1998. 

There are also a number of specialty bribery statutes that affect certain public officials or types of workers. Commercial bribery involves giving anything of value to an employee or agent with the intent to influence his or her action in relation to his or her employer’s affairs.

Potential Penalties for Federal Bribery Convictions

The potential penalties for a federal bribery conviction depends on the Act that the defendant violated. For example, Bribery of a Public Official or Witness can result in a fine up to three times the amount of the bribe or thing of value and imprisonment up to fifteen years[10]. This is in addition to any other charges, such as obstruction of justice. Additionally, a person convicted of this offense can be disqualified from public office.

Immigration Consequences

Individuals who are convicted of bribery may be considered removable[11]. Being convicted of an aggravated felony[12] can be grounds for removal. However, even if grounds are present for which a person may be subject to removal, a consultation with a criminal defense lawyer well-versed in immigration law can discuss possible forms of relief that may be available.


[1] See California Penal Code Section 7 -Bribe “signifies anything of value or advantage, present or prospective, or ny promise or undertaking to give any, asked, given, or accepted, with a corrupt intent to influence, unlawfully, the person to whom it is given, in his or her action, vote, or opinion; in any public or official capacity.

[2] See California Penal Code Section 67. “Every person who gives or offers any bribe to any executive officer in this state, with intent to influence him in respect to any act, decision, vote, opinion, or other proceeding as such officer, is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three or four years, and is disqualified from holding any office in this state.”

[3] See California Penal Code Section 67.5 – “Every person who gives or offers as a bribe to any ministerial officer, employee, or appointee of the State of California, county or city therein, or political subdivision thereof, any thing the theft of which would be petty theft is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

[4] See California Penal Code Section 68.

[5] Bribing a ministerial officer with an amount less than $400 is considered a petty theft and a misdemeanor crime.

[6] See People v. Finkelstin (1950), 98 Cal.App.2d 545, 553 – Explaining that entrapment occurs when law enforcement conduct induces a person to commit an offense that he or she otherwise would not have committed. This defense serves as a defense to criminal liability because the idea originated with law enforcement and not with the defendant.

[7] Graft refers to the fraudulent obtaining of public money from the corruption of public officers. Graft is possible due to the position of authority or superiority due to his or her position.

[8] Bribery is often defined as a gain to an illicit advantage.

[9] See 18 U.S.C. § 201(b)(1-2) – “Whoever, directly or indirectly, corruptly gives, offers or promises anything of value to any public official or person who has been selected to be a public official, or offers or promises any public official or any person who has been selected to be a public official to give anything of value to any other person or entity, with intent (A) to influence any official act; or (B) to influence such public official or person who has been selected to be a public official to commit or aid in committing, or collude in, or allow, any fraud, or make opportunity for the commission of any fraud, on the United States; or (C) to induce such public official or such person who has been selected to be a public official or to do or omit to do any act in violation of the lawful duty of such official or person.

[10] See 18 U.S.C. § 201(b)(4).

[11] See 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii) – “Any alien who is convicted of an aggravated felony at any time after admission is deportable.”

[12] See 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43) – Including enumerated aggravated felony offenses that are enumerated in subsections A-U, specifically (R) “an offense relating to commercial bribery” when the term of imprisonment is at least one year and (S) “an offense relating to obstruction of justice, perjury or subornation of perjury, or bribery of a witness, for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year.”