Corruption of Judges

Bribing or Offering to Bribe a Judicial Officer – Penal Code Section 92

The crime of bribing or attempting to bribe a judge is punishable as a felony under Penal Code Section 92. The law also mandates felony punishment for any person who attempts to bribe someone authorized by law to decide court-related matters, including:

• Jurors1;
• Court Commissioners
• Referees;
• Arbitrators;
• Umpires.

Elements of the Offense:

To convict you of a felony, the prosecution must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
(1) You gave or offered a bribe to a judge or any person authorized to decide issues pertinent to a legal case;

AND

(2) You intended to influence the person’s decision or responsibility in carrying out his legal duty.
What is a “bribe”? A “bribe” is anything of value given or accepted with “a corrupt intent to influence” the recipient’s decision act or official capacity in some way.2

Bribery
It is irrelevant that a payment failed to influence the judicial officer or juror. The crime is committed when the payment is made as long as you have the corrupt intent to influence the other person’s official duty.3
It is also irrelevant if there is no specific case pending before the judicial officer at the time the bribe is made. If you pay a judicial officer with the intent of impacting some future action that “may” conceivably come before him, the crime can still be established.4

Examples of Section 92 Crimes:

• A car salesman gives a $100,000 in cash and benefits to three superior court judges and their family members in the hope of influencing legal cases that may come before the judges in the future.5

• A criminal defendant’s husband sees a juror hearing his wife’s fraud case in the cafeteria. He offers to pay her $500 to vote not guilty.

Defenses:

(1) No bribe. Judges are elected officials. They frequently attend political and social gatherings, and mix with people from all walks of life. They may also hold lifelong friendships with other members of the legal community. A defense attorney should closely scrutinize the relationship between the defendant and the judicial officer he allegedly bribed or offered to bribe. Words and actions are often taken out of context or grossly misinterpreted. You may have no “corrupt intent” by giving something of value or offering to give something of value to a judge.

(2) No Intent to Influence. If you are accused of giving or offering a bribe, your attorney should vigorously challenge the prosecution’s theory that you intended to influence the recipient’s official duty. All facts surrounding the relationship of the parties should be closely explored to discern your true intent.

(3) Entrapment. If you are suspected of bribing or offering to bribe a judicial officer, police officers may attempt to conduct a sting operation targeting you. You may raise an entrapment defense if police investigators induce you to commit the offense by using techniques capable of persuading an otherwise law abiding person to violate the law. All aspects of the law enforcement sting operation should be scrutinized to see if an entrapment defense is possible in your case.

Punishment:

Section 92 is only punishable as a felony! The charge cannot be reduced to a misdemeanor. If convicted, you will receive the following punishment:
• A prison sentence of two, three or four years;

• Felony probation if the court finds in the interests of justice that your case is unusual, and that you should not be sent to prison. If probation is granted, the court may still sentence you to serve up to one year in the county jail.6

• A fine not to exceed $10,000.7

Commentary:

Allegations of judicial corruption will be aggressively investigated by law enforcement. If you are suspected of bribing or attempting to bribe a judicial officer or juror, you should decline to give a statement to investigators and immediately ask for an attorney. Criminal intent is often very difficult for a prosecutor to prove if the investigating officer fails to get a statement from you.
You should contact a competent criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. The attorney should initiate an investigation and begin documenting evidence that is favorable to your case. A bribery investigation can be complex and should only be conducted by highly skilled and experienced private investigators.

 

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Sources Cited:

(1) See also Penal Code Section 95, authorizing alternate statutory punishment for those attempting to corrupt jurors.

(2) United States v. Frega (1999) 179 F.3d 793, 805.

(3) United States v. Frega (1999) 179 F.3d 793, 805.

(4) Frega (1999) 179 F.3d at 793, citing People v. Diedrich (1982) 31 Cal.3d 263 and People v. Markham (1883) 64 Cal.157, 159.

(5) United States v. Frega (1999) 179 F.3d 793.

(6) Penal Code § 1203(e)(7)

(7) Penal Code § 672.

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