Penal Code Section 95 sets forth a felony offense for any person who attempts to corrupt jurors, arbitrators and other individuals whose judgment is integral to the proper functioning of the legal system. Section 95 is broader than Penal Code Section 92 which offers felony punishment for anyone attempting to “bribe” a juror, arbitrator, umpire or referee. Penal Code Section 95 prohibits the use of threats, intimidation and other forms of undue influence in addition to the use of financial corruption.
Section 95 protects the following people:
Elements of the Offense
- A person made an oral or written statement to a juror, arbitrator, umpire or referee.
- When making the oral or written statement the person had the specific intent to unlawfully influence the victim’s verdict, decision or other legal duty.
Illegal Communications Under the Statute
- Any oral or written communication specifically intended to influence a protected actor of the judicial branch (see above) in the performance of their official duty;
- Illegal communications may be communicated through books, papers or other instruments;
- Any communication reasonably taken to be a threat;
- Any communication amounting to an act of intimidation;
- Any communication intended to persuade or coax a protected person;
- Any promise or assurance of some type of financial benefit or other advantage.
Examples of Section 95 Violations
- John is prosecuted by the District Attorney for committing a gang-related stabbing. A member of John’s gang follows a juror home and tells her that there will be “consequences” if she renders a guilty verdict.
- A union member introduces himself to an arbitrator who will be deciding a case of significant interest to the union. The union member tells the arbitrator that the union will support his planned bid to become an elected judge with money and advertising assistance.
If you are charged with communicating threats under the statute, the intimidating or illegal statement must be made before the victim’s duties have been concluded. As an example, if a person utters intimidating statements to a juror after the case is concluded, the statements do not fall under Section 95.4
If you are charged with a Section 95 accusation, the following defenses may apply:
- The communication was not illegal. Communications can sometimes be taken out of context. The listener may be mistaken or untruthful in reporting the alleged violation. All circumstances surrounding the communication and the client’s alleged illegal communication should be thoroughly investigated.
- No Specific Intent to Influence an Official Duty. Statements of frustration and anger are not criminal if the listener had no specific intent to influence a person’s official duty in a legal case. All circumstances surrounding a communication should be thoroughly explored to demonstrate why the communication was not criminal. If the criminal allegation hinges on a financial payment or the promise of a benefit, the relationship of the parties should also be thoroughly explored.
- Entrapment. Law enforcement operators will sometimes conduct sting operations to acquire the recorded statements of people suspected of illegal activity. You may assert an “entrapment” defense if the law enforcement officer’s method of operation would tend to cause a normally law abiding person to commit the crime.
Penal Code Section 95 carries felony punishment for anyone convicted of the offense. The charge cannot be reduced to a misdemeanor. If you are convicted, the judge will sentence you to a local prison term of 16 months, 2 years or three years in a county jail facility. If the court grants you probation, you may still be ordered to serve up to a year in jail. The court may also impose a fine of up to $10,000.
Corruption allegations are aggressively investigated in California. Prosecutors believe that any threat or attempt to influence a juror strikes at the very heart of the legal system. Accordingly, if you are targeted in a Section 95 investigation you can expect investigators to utilize all of the tools available to them. Investigators will often seek search warrants to obtain evidence from the home, vehicles, internet records, and phone records of the accused. They may resort to physical surveillance and the use of undercover operatives to obtain statements from the suspect.
If you learn that you are the target of a corruption investigation, you should decline to give a statement if confronted by investigators. Always assert your right to an attorney and decline to answer questions. Seek the advice of a competent criminal defense attorney immediately.
1An arbitrator is a person, typically an attorney, selected by the parties to decide a legal controversy, or selected by the court when the parties cannot agree. See California Code of Civil Procedure § 1280.
2When two or more arbitrators are assigned to make a legal decision and they cannot agree, an umpire is called in to make the final judgment. Black’s Law Dictionary, 2nd Ed.
3When there is a cause pending before a court, a referee may be appointed to take testimony on a particular issue, to determine the position of the parties for the purpose of reporting back to the court. Black’s Law Dictionary, 2nd Ed.
4People v. Wooddall (1986) 185 Cal.App.3d 399
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