18 USC section 201

Public Corruption: Bribery

What Constitutes Bribery?

Bribery is defined in federal law by 18 U.S.C. section 201 as:

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:

  1. to influence any official act; or
  2. 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
  3. to induce such public official or such person who has been selected to be a public official to do or omit to do any act in violation of the lawful duty of such official or person;

This essentially means promising or offering to give money to an official, or person selected to be an official, to act a certain way or to let you act in a certain way. This does not require that official accept it, or even know you intended a bribe, the offer is what is prohibited.

Being a public official or person selected to be a public official, directly or indirectly, corruptly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally or for any other person or entity, in return for:

  1. being influenced in the performance of any official act;
  2. being influenced to commit or aid in committing, or to collude in, or allow, any fraud, or make opportunity for the commission of any fraud, on the United States; or
  3. being induced to do or omit to do any act in violation of the official duty of such official or person

The above boils down to bribery not being limited to a member of the public approaching an official. If an official asks or seeks a bribe to be influenced a certain way, they have committed bribery as well.

Whoever directly or indirectly gives, offers, or promises anything of value to any public official, former public official, or person selected to be a public official, for or because of any official act performed or to be performed by such public official, former public official, or person selected to be a public official; or

Whoever being a public official, former public official, or person selected to be a public official, otherwise than as provided by law for the proper discharge of official duty, directly or indirectly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally for or because of any official act performed or to be performed by such official or person;

The two excerpts above can seem confusing but look at the bolded portions. The first says bribery extends to “this for that” transactions, meaning offering anything of value for a specific act rather than just for influence as seen in prior sections. The second bolded section similarly extends that theory to the officials themselves.

Punishments

This is where it gets complex. The law above told us how to know bribery when we see it, but there are many other sections that identify specific means of bribery, identify certain officials and punish them differently, and create differing penalties for how bribery is accomplished. Penalties can include prison time of 5 years or more and fines that can be as high $25 million or more.

As with all criminal cases, if you find yourself accused of bribery consult a licensed criminal defense attorney to determine what your unique case means to you. This is a complex area of law that requires a careful professional.

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