Bribery of a Witness Laws in California – Penal Code 137 and 138 PC
California Penal Code 137 PC bribery of a witness is the statute that makes it a crime for somebody to give or offer any bribe to a witness with the intent to influence their testimony.
Penal Code 138 PC witness taking a bribe is a closely related law making it a crime for a witness to accept or ask someone for a bribe to influence their testimony or availability to testify at any court proceeding. Both statutes are a felony punishable by up to four years in a California state prison.
The white-collar crime of bribery is generally described as influencing somebody to act or speak in a specific way by offering them something of value.
Under PC 137 & 138, if one person bribes another, a witness, both people could be criminally charged with the felony offense of bribery, which is considered a severe crime in California.
The classic bribery case involves a scenario where someone offers money to a crucial witness in a criminal case to not show up at the trial. The “goods” exchanged to complete the crime of bribery could include any of the following, which is NOT a complete list:
- gifts, such as expensive jewelry,
- specific promises,
- new car or a boat.
Anything of value offered to a witness could constitute a bribe if the intent were to influence their behavior. While a formal written agreement is not necessary to prove bribery, the prosecuting agency must demonstrate clear intent to receive or administer a bribe.
Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys will cover this topic in more detail below in this article.
What Factors Must Be Proven for a Bribery Conviction?
The crime of bribery occurs when a witness changes their testimony or agrees not to show up at a trial in exchange for money or something of value. As noted, bribery charges can be filed against the person who offered a bribe to a witness AND the witness who accepted it.
To convict a defendant of bribery, the prosecution has to prove all the elements of the crime listed under California Criminal Jury Instructions (CALCRIM) 2610.
- defendant offered or promised something of clear value; and
- defendant acted with corrupt intent.
The term “corrupt intent” is described as an unlawful act to gain a financial advantage for themselves or another person.
Note that the person receiving the bribe doesn't need to agree to receive it. In other words, the offer alone is sufficient to support a charge of attempted bribery.
What Are the Penalties If Convicted?
Bribery in California is a felony crime. If convicted of Penal Code 137 or 138 PC, the legal punishments include:
- up to four years in state prison,
- a range of hefty fines,
- formal felony probation.
Further, a bribery conviction could result in mandatory losses of rights or remedial actions for a period after the conviction. These alternative consequences include:
- loss of 2nd Amendment firearm rights,
- community service hours,
- anger management courses.
What Are the Related Crimes?
Several statutes and subsections cover crimes similar to those defined under PC 137 and PC 138, such as:
- Penal Code 67 and 68 PC - bribery of executive or public employees,
- Penal Code 85 and 86 PC – bribing legislators,
- Penal Code 92 and 93 PC – bribing judicial officers or jurors,
- Penal Code 165 PC – bribing of supervisors or public corporations,
- Penal Code 641.3 PC – commercial bribery,
- Penal Code 518 PC - extortion.
What Are the Best Defenses Against Bribery Charges?
We need to first closely examine the details of your case to determine an appropriate defense strategy, but some common defenses for bribery are listed below.
Lack of criminal intent: The prosecution has to prove you had an illegal or corrupt plan to convict someone of bribery. This means you unlawfully acted with the full intention to influence another person. We might be able to challenge this element of the crime, but it will depend on the prosecutor's evidence.
Mistakes: We might be able to argue that you panicked in a difficult situation and made a mistake. Perhaps we can use this lack of premeditation to argue for innocence or decreased penalties.
Intoxication: We might be able to argue you were voluntarily intoxicated when you offered or accepted a bribe. In other words, you had no intent actually to carry out your bribery offer.
Coercion: We might argue that you believed you were forced to commit the crime of bribery for your safety. In other words, perhaps you were coerced by someone and acted out of duress.
False accusation: Maybe we can prove you are the victim of a false allegation and wrongful arrest or the victim of mistaken identity.
Police entrapment: If you were arrested during a police undercover sting, we might be able to use an entrapment defense. Perhaps you only committed bribery because you were persuaded by police and would not have illegally acted otherwise.
If you are under investigation or already arrested and charged with Penal Code 137 or 138 PC bribery, you should consult with our experienced defense team professionals.
Perhaps we can negotiate with the prosecuting agency for reduced charges or a dismissal. Further, through the prefiling process, we could potentially enter into negotiations with law enforcement and the prosecutor to avoid the formal filing of criminal charges, commonly known as a “DA reject.”
Cron, Israels & Stark is based in Los Angeles County, and we serve people across Southern California. Our law firm offers a free case review by calling (424) 372-3112 or filling out our contact form.