California Penal Code 137 & 138 pc
Bribery by or of Witnesses

We take it as a given that witnesses will show up in court to testify when they say they will and, once on the witness stand, will speak honestly. If you try to pay a witness to do otherwise you can be convicted of bribery.

In California, bribery of or by a witness is often a felony. It is a serious offence that can land you in jail.

But there are defenses to bribery charges. If you are accused of bribery you need people standing up for your side. Our California Criminal Defense Lawyers can help.1 We're former prosecutors and police officers and we know how to handle these complex cases.

This article is about California Penal Code Sections 137 pc and 138 pc. If you have questions after reading it, please give us a call at Shouse Law Group for a consultation.

You might also be interested in our related articles on

This article addresses:

1. Definition of bribe
2. Penal Code 137(a) pc - bribery of witnesses
regarding testimony
3. Penal Code 138(a) pc - bribery of witnesses
regarding trial attendance
4. Penal Code 138(b) pc - bribery by witnesses
regarding testimony or attendance
5. Defenses to a bribery charge
6. Penalties for a bribery conviction

(Click on a title to proceed directly to that section)

1. Definition of bribe

Bribe is broadly defined in California law. It happens when a witness corruptly modifies his or her testimony, or agrees not to attend trial, in exchange for money or something else of value.7

Bribery goes both ways.a person can be convicted of offering a bribe to a witness and a witness can be convicted of receiving a bribe.

2. Penal Code 137(a) pc - bribery of witnesses
regarding testimony

California Penal Code Section 137(a) pc deals with bribes of witnesses regarding their TESTIMONY in court cases. It also applies to witnesses giving important information about a crime to a prosecutor or police officer.

PC 137(a) makes it a felony for:

  1. any person to give or offer or promise to give a witness
  2. something of value
  3. with a corrupt intent
  4. to influence the witness' testimony8

This section also makes it a crime to use force or threats of force, or fraud, to get a witness to give false testimony or to withhold information--a crime that could also be prosecuted as "extortion" under Penal Code 518.

Let's look at an example:

Example: The late-night bartender at Knock 'Em Back Saloon serves one too many whiskeys to a clearly intoxicated patron. Sergeant Lawler witnesses this law violation and arrests the bartender. A few days later, Knock 'Em Back's owner, who is worried about losing his liquor license all together, approaches Sgt Lawler and offers him $500 or "whatever it takes" to "go easy on the evidence" when he takes the stand at bartender's trial.

Knock 'Em Back's owner could be charged with bribery of a witness in this case.9 He tried to pay Sgt Lawler to change his testimony.
3. Penal Code 138(a) pc - bribery of witnesses
regarding trial attendance

California Penal Code Section 138(a) pc deals with bribes of witnesses regarding their ATTENDANCE in court cases.

PC 138(a) makes it a felony for:

  1. any person to give or offer or promise to give a witness
  2. something of value
  3. with a corrupt intent
  4. to influence the witness' attendance at trial10
4. Penal Code 138(b) pc - bribery by witnesses
regarding testimony or attendance

California Penal Code Section 138(b) pc deals with bribes by witnesses regarding their testimony or attendance in a court case.

PC 138 makes it a felony for:

  1. a witness to receive, or offer to receive
  2. something of value
  3. with a corrupt intent
  4. to influence the witness' testimony or attendance at trial11
5. Defenses to a bribery charge

There are defenses to bribery charges. They include:

  • lack of corrupt intent
  • entrapment
  • coercion
  • intoxication

For more details on defenses to bribery charges, please see our related article California bribery laws.

6. Penalties for a bribery conviction

Conviction under PC 137 or PC 138 often is felony.12 This means you can be sent to state prison for up to four years if you are convicted.

Our California Criminal Defense Lawyers Can Help.
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If you or loved one is charged with Penal Code 137 & 138 pc bribery of witnesses and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone. We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.

To learn about bribery law in Nevada, go to our informational article bribery law in Nevada.

References:

1Our California Criminal Defense Lawyers have local offices in Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona, Torrance, Van Nuys, West Covina, and Whittier.

2See California Penal Code sections 67 and 68, dealing with bribery of executive officers and public employees.

3See California Penal Code sections 85 and 86 dealing with bribery of legislators.

4See California Penal Code sections 92 and 93, dealing with bribery of judges, judicial officers or jurors.

5See California Penal Code section 165, dealing with bribery of members of county boards of supervisors and public corporations.

6See California Penal Code section 641.3, dealing with commercial bribery.

7California Penal Code Section 7(6) provides that: "The word 'bribe' signifies anything of value or advantage, present or prospective, or any promise or undertaking to give any, asked, given, or accepted, with a corrupt intent to influence, unlawfully, the person to whom it is given, in his or her action, vote, or opinion, in any public or official capacity." Penal Code Section 7(3) provides that: "The word 'corruptly' imports a wrongful design to acquire or cause some pecuniary or other advantage to the person guilty of the act or omission referred to, or to some other person."

8California Penal Code Section 137 ("(a) Every person who gives or offers, or promises to give, to any witness, person about to be called as a witness, or person about to give material information pertaining to a crime to a law enforcement official, any bribe, upon any understanding or agreement that the testimony of such witness or information given by such person shall be thereby influenced is guilty of a felony. (b) Every person who attempts by force or threat of force or by the use of fraud to induce any person to give false testimony or withhold true testimony or to give false material information pertaining to a crime to, or withhold true material information pertaining to a crime from, a law enforcement official is guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years. As used in this subdivision, "threat of force" means a credible threat of unlawful injury to any person or damage to the property of another which is communicated to a person for the purpose of inducing him to give false testimony or withhold true testimony or to give false material information pertaining to a crime to, or to withhold true material information pertaining to a crime from, a law enforcement official. (c) Every person who knowingly induces another person to give false testimony or withhold true testimony not privileged by law or to give false material information pertaining to a crime to, or to withhold true material information pertaining to a crime from, a law enforcement official is guilty of a misdemeanor. (d) At the arraignment, on a showing of cause to believe this section may be violated, the court, on motion of a party, shall admonish the person who there is cause to believe may violate this section and shall announce the penalties and other provisions of this section. (e) As used in this section "law enforcement official" includes any district attorney, deputy district attorney, city attorney, deputy city attorney, the Attorney General or any deputy attorney general, or any peace officer.(f) The provisions of subdivision (c) shall not apply to an attorney advising a client or to a person advising a member of his or her family.")

9Loosely based on People v. Terry (1955) 44 C.2d 371). See also People v. Pic'l (1982) 31 Cal.3d 731.

10California Penal Code Section 138(a). "("(a) Every person who gives or offers or promises to give to any witness or person about to be called as a witness, any bribe upon any understanding or agreement that the person shall not attend upon any trial or other judicial proceeding, or every person who attempts by means of any offer of a bribe to dissuade any person from attending upon any trial or other judicial proceeding, is guilty of a felony.")

11California Penal Code Section 138. "((b) Every person who is a witness, or is about to be called as such, who receives, or offers to receive, any bribe, upon any understanding that his or her testimony shall be influenced thereby, or that he or she will absent himself or herself from the trial or proceeding upon which his or her testimony is required, is guilty of a felony.")

12It is a misdemeanor, instead of a felony, to "knowingly induce" a witness to give false testimony or withhold information. See Penal Code Section 137(c), infra.

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