ARS § 13-2602 defines the Arizona crime of bribery of a public servant. You commit this offense if you offer or agree to give some benefit to a public servant with the intent to influence that person’s vote, or in the case of public servants, they solicit or accept a benefit with the understanding that it will influence their vote.
A violation of this law is a Class 4 felony that is punishable by over three years in state prison.
The language of ARS 13-2602 reads as follows:
A. A person commits bribery of a public servant or party officer if with corrupt intent:
1. Such person offers, confers or agrees to confer any benefit upon a public servant or party officer with the intent to influence the public servant’s or party officer’s vote, opinion, judgment, exercise of discretion or other action in his official capacity as a public servant or party officer; or
2. While a public servant or party officer, such person solicits, accepts or agrees to accept any benefit upon an agreement or understanding that his vote, opinion, judgment, exercise of discretion or other action as a public servant or party officer may thereby be influenced.
B. It is no defense to a prosecution under this section that a person sought to be influenced was not qualified to act in the desired way because such person had not yet assumed office, lacked jurisdiction or for any other reason.
C. Bribery of a public servant or party officer is a class 4 felony.
- handing an Arizona state legislator an envelope of money in return for his vote on a piece of legislation.
- a food safety official accepting $20,000 for not reporting contamination with a crop of produce.
- agreeing to give a judge a kickback for a favorable ruling in civil court.
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several legal strategies to help clients contest bribery charges. Some of these include showing that:
- the defendant did not intend to influence a vote,
- there was no public servant or party officer involved, and/or
- the accused was entrapped.
- custody in state prison for up to three years and nine months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $150,000.
In this article, our criminal defense attorneys will discuss what the law is under this statute, defenses available if charged, the penalties for a conviction, and related crimes.
1. How does Arizona law define “bribery of a public servant”?
Arizona laws say that people are guilty of the bribery of a public servant if they:
- offer or agree to give any benefit to a public servant or party officer, and
- do so with the intent to influence such person’s vote, opinion, or judgment.1
Public servants and party officers are also guilty under this statute if they:
- solicit, accept, or agree to accept any benefit, and
- do so with the understanding that the benefit will influence their vote, opinion, or judgment.2
For the purposes of this statute:
- a “public servant” or a public official is a government official or an employee, and
- a “party officer” is a person who holds any position or office in a political party, whether by election, appointment, or otherwise.3
Note that commercial bribery is a separate offense from the bribery of a public servant. The crime of commercial bribery is set forth in ARS 13-2605. Under this law, people are guilty of a crime if they:
- give a benefit to an employee without the consent of such employee’s employer, and
- do so with the intent to influence the employee’s conduct in relation to the employer’s commercial affairs.4
Note, too, that bribery charges received some press as of late because of the latest news involving the college basketball bribery scandal, the University of Arizona, and the Wildcats’ basketball coaching staff.5
2. Are there defenses to ARS 13-2602?
People facing bribery charges can challenge them with a legal defense. Three common defenses include accused people showing that:
- they did not intend to influence a vote.
- their case did not include a public servant or party officer.
- they were entrapped.
2.1 No intent to influence a vote
People are only guilty under this statute if they offer a benefit to public servants and do so with the specific intent to influence their vote. This means it is always a defense for an accused to show that he/she did not act with this aim or purpose. Perhaps, for example, a defendant gave a public official money or a gift as part of a campaign contribution.
2.2 No public servant or party officer
The bribery of a public servant is a law that only involves:
- people bribing a public servant or party officer, or
- a public servant or a party officer accepting a bribe.
Therefore, a defendant can always raise the defense that, although he/she may have tried to confer a benefit on someone, that person was not a public servant or party officer.
People are often accused of this crime after an undercover sting operation. But note that any charges should get dropped if law enforcement lured a suspect into committing the crime.
This “luring” is known as entrapment. It applies to overbearing official conduct on the part of police officers, like pressure, harassment, fraud, flattery, or threats. Entrapment is an acceptable legal defense provided that the accused shows he/she only committed the crime because of the entrapment.
3. What are the penalties?
A ARS 13-2602 violation is a Class 4 felony under Arizona law.6
The crime is punishable by:
- a state prison term of up to three years and nine months, and/or
- a fine of up to $150,000.
If the offense gets classified as a “dangerous offense,” then the bribery of a public servant is punishable by a prison term of up to eight years.
4. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to the bribery of a party officer. These are:
- extortion – ARS 13-1804,
- obstruction of justice – ARS 13-2409, and
- theft – ARS 13-1802.
4.1 Extortion – ARS 13-1804
Per ARS 13-1804, extortion is the crime where people take or try to take another person’s property by threatening to do some future act (like break the “victim’s” arm).
Unlike extortion, the bribery of a public servant does not involve any threat. The focus is more on someone giving an official any benefit with the intent to influence a vote.
4.2 Obstruction of justice – ARS 13-2409
Under ARS 13-2409, obstruction of justice is a crime where people knowingly try to obstruct, delay or prevent the communication of information to the police regarding the commission of a crime.
Obstruction of justice is considered a slightly less severe crime than bribery under Arizona law. Obstructing justice is a Class 5 felony punishable by a prison term of up to two years and six months.
4.3 Theft – ARS 13-1802
Under ARS 13-1802, theft is the offense where people knowingly use or take someone else’s property or services without lawful authority to do so.
Note that if someone steals money from another person, and then uses that money to bribe a public servant, a prosecutor can charge the person with both:
- theft, per ARS 13-1802, and
- bribery of a public servant, per ARS 13-2602.
- Arizona Revised Statutes 13-2602.
- ARS 13-2602A2.
- See, for example, ARS 13-2601. “party officer” applies to people in any recognized political party (for example, Donald Trump as a member of the Republican Party or GOP).
- ARS 13-2605.
- Note that this scandal does not involve charges of the bribery of a public servant. Rather, it pertains to a federal bribery charge against Book Richardson. Book was an assistant coach in U of A’s basketball program. He pled guilty, as part of an FBI investigation, to accepting $20,000 in exchange for a promise to steer student-athletes (including former high school star Deandre Ayton) to agent Christian Dawkins. Recently, NCAA included Wildcats’ head coach, Sean Miller, into the scandal with a Notice of Allegations.
- ARS 13-2602C.