Judges who accept or request bribes will be charged with a felony under Section 93.1 The law also mandates felony punishment for any person with the power to make decisions in a legal contest, including:
- Court commissioners;
Elements of the Offense
The prosecutor must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The defendant was a judge or some other person authorized by law to decide court-related matters;
- The defendant requested, received, or agreed to receive a bribe;
- It was understood that the exchange would influence the defendant’s official duty.
What is a “bribe”? A bribe is anything of value that is offered or accepted with a “corrupt intent” to influence the official duties of a judge or some other person with the power to make decisions in a legal contest.
Under California law, it is irrelevant that the bribe resulted in the correct legal decision or act. The only thing matters is whether the recipient of the bribe has the corrupt intent to influence the outcome
of a court case when he received it.3
The law does not require the prosecution to prove that the judicial officer had a specific case in mind when he received the bribe. The prosecution can satisfy its burden of proof if it can demonstrate that the bribe was requested or received with the intent of affecting any conceivable legal case.4
Examples of Section 93 violations
- The owner of a car dealership offers to sell a car below cost to a judge who commonly hears civil cases. There is a clear understanding that the deal will result in favorable treatment for the business man in future civil cases.
- A juror sees a defendant’s family member during a break in a trial. The juror requests $500 in exchange for his “not guilty” vote.
- There was no unlawful request or receipt of a bribe. It is possible that the entire event was a misunderstanding, or the judicial officer’s words or actions were taken grossly out of context. Absent clear written or recorded statements, experience demonstrates that witnesses often misinterpret key events. The statements and actions attributed to the defendant should be thoroughly explored. There may have been no “corrupt intent” whatsoever when they alleged bribe was requested or received.
- There was no understanding that an official duty would be compromised. Judges are human beings. They have friends, families and typically serve distinguished roles in community organizations. Accordingly, judges frequently share meals, attend social events and carry on meaningful lives outside of court. If something is offered or received by a judge from another person, it may have absolutely nothing to do with the judge’s official duty. A simple gift or some offering of good will from one person to a judge does not amount to a bribe if there was no understanding that it would impact the judge’s official duty.5The relationship of the parties should be thoroughly explored and investigated by defense counsel to gather evidence that the request or exchange had nothing to do with an official duty.
- Entrapment: The defendant has the burden of raising an “entrapment” defense by showing that “more likely than not,” law enforcement officers acted inappropriately to induce him to take a bribe. A person is entrapped by law enforcement if police tactics would induce an ordinarily law abiding person to commit the offense.6 Counsel should closely scrutinize the law enforcement investigation and obtain all recordings and other evidence relating to a sting operation. Did law enforcement use an attractive person to seduce or flatter the defendant? Were there repeated or insistent requests that put undue pressure on the defendant? Did the undercover operative make an appeal to sympathy or take advantage of a friendship to induce the receipt of the bribe?
The crime of requesting or receiving a bribe under Penal Code Section 93 may only be alleged as a felony. The crime is punishable in the following manner:
- By a prison sentence of 2, 3 or 4 years.
- Probation may only be granted if the court rules that your case is unusual such that probation is merited in the interests of justice.
- If no bribe is received, a restitution fine between $2,000 and $10,000.
- If a bribe was received, a restitution fine amounting to a minimum of $2,000 or the amount of the actual bribe, whichever is greater, or a maximum fine of not more than double the bribe or $10,000, whichever is greater.7
- If no bribe is received, a restitution fine between $2,000 and $10,000.8
Any allegation of bribery will be thoroughly investigated by law enforcement. If you are the subject of a criminal investigation for bribery, DECLINE to make a statement and invoke your right to an attorney! Even if you are completely innocent and find the allegations preposterous, always decline to give a statement and ask for an attorney! Often times, it is not what you say to the police that matters. It’s what they write down or remember!
An attorney can help you gather your thoughts and answer any accusations in a way that protects your interests. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately if you find yourself under investigation for a bribery allegation.
1Less serious offenses may be pursued under Penal Code Section 94. Section 94 dictates misdemeanor punishment for any judge who requests or receives a gratuity for performing an official act.
2Penal Code § 7(6).
3United States v. Frega (1999) 179 F.3d 793.
4United States v. Frega (1999) 179 F.3d 793, 805 [interpreting California law]
5United States v. Frega (1999) 179 F.3d 793, 807.
6Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (CALCRIM) No. 3408.
7Penal Code § 93(a).
8Penal Code § 98.
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