California Penal Code Section 641.3
Commercial Bribery

We often think of bribery as involving public officials.  But in California bribery also can occur in the private business context.  When bribery occurs in a business setting, it is called "commercial bribery" and covered by California Penal Code Section 641.3 pc.

A commercial bribery charge can be very serious.  You can lose your reputation and career.  You can be sent to jail.

If you are accused of commercial bribery you need people standing up for your side.  Our California Criminal Defense Lawyers can help. We're former criminal prosecutors and police investigators and we know how to fight charges like these.

This article is an introduction to California Penal Code Section 643.1.  If you have questions after reading it, please give us a call at Shouse Law Group for a consultation.

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This article covers:

1. Commercial bribery definition
2. Defenses to a commercial bribery charge
3. Penalties for a commercial bribery conviction

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1. Commercial bribery definition

Commercial bribery is defined in California Penal Code Section 641.3.  Commercial bribery happens when an

  1. employee corruptly (with intent to injure or defraud)
  2. solicits or accepts or agrees to accept
  3. money or anything of value greater than $250
  4. from someone other than his or her employer
  5. without the knowledge or consent of the employer
  6. in return for using his or her position for the benefit of that other person6

Penal Code 641.3 pc covers both parties to the transaction.  A person who offers or gives a bribe to an employee under these circumstances also can be convicted of commercial bribery.7

“Kickbacks” are common in many industries. They are regarded as a type of “perk” and many people graciously offer and accept them without giving them much thought…or at least turn a blind-eye to the practice. Simply put, kickbacks are payment, goods, or other services that are given in exchange for a desired benefit. But when the value of these kickbacks is greater than $250, a crime is actually taking place. So while you may be used to benefiting from industry kickbacks (either as the giver or receiver), beware of (1) the value of the gift, and (2) concealing it from your boss, because violating Penal Code 641.3 PC, California's “commercial bribery” law could subject you to a state prison sentence and substantial fines.

The idea behind commercial bribery is that employees have an ethical duty to act loyally on behalf of their employers.  If they take money from a third party in return for making a business decision without involvement of their boss, it may end up jeopardizing their employer's business.

Let's look at an example:

Example:  John works for a furniture maker called In Your Living Room.  Last year John had a business lunch with Sandy, who runs a textile manufacturing company.  The lunch netted a textile contract for In Your Living Room.  The deal was a good one, fair for all sides.  Over the last year, Sandy has been increasingly upping the ante for John.  First, Sandy started picking up business lunch tabs, then dinner tabs and later gave John an all-expense paid weekend to Las Vegas.  Meanwhile, other textile manufacturers were pitching John about possible contracts without success.  John's a gambler.he played his luck and headed to Vegas, without telling his employer who was paying for the trip.  Soon thereafter, Sandy asked to renegotiate the textile contract in a manner that would undercut legitimate competition and harm In Your Living Room's bottom line.  John feels obligated to Sandy.and he signs the new contract.

Both John and Sandy may be guilty of commercial bribery.  The first few lunches were probably ok, but the Vegas trip was expensive and John accepted it without his boss' knowledge.
2. Defenses to a commercial bribery charge

Commercial bribery is a specific intent crime.  There can be no conviction without corrupt intent.

This means if you are accused of bribery and you didn't take any money or gift with "corrupt" intent to injure or defraud your employer or someone else's employer.then you have a defense.

At Shouse Law Group, we will be happy to discuss your case with you in detail, including all possible defenses.

3. Penalties for a commercial bribery conviction

The penalty for commercial bribery depends on the amount of the bribe.  It can be either a misdemeanor or a felony.

  • For bribes under $1,000, you can be sent to county jail for up to a year
  • For bribes over $1,000, you can be sent to county jail or to California State Prison for up to three years
Our California Criminal Defense Lawyers Can Help.

If you have been charged with violating Penal Code 641.3 pc, or are otherwise accused of bribery, please contact our Southern California Criminal Defense Lawyers to discuss your case.

To learn about Nevada bribery laws, go to our informational article on Nevada bribery laws.


1See California Penal Code sections 67 and 68, dealing with bribery of executive officers and public employees.

2See California Penal Code sections 85 and 86 dealing with bribery of legislators.

3See California Penal Code sections 92 and 93, dealing with bribery of judges, judicial officers or jurors.

4See California Penal Code sections 137 and 138, dealing with bribery of witnesses regarding their attendance at trial or their testimony.

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

6California Penal Code Section 641.3  ("(a) Any employee who solicits, accepts, or agrees to accept money or any thing of value from a person other than his or her employer, other than in trust for the employer, corruptly and without the knowledge or consent of the employer, in return for using or agreeing to use his or her position for the benefit of that other person, and any person who offers or gives an employee money or any thing of value under those circumstances, is guilty of commercial bribery.  (b) This section does not apply where the amount of money or monetary worth of the thing of value is two hundred fifty dollars ($250) or less.  (c) Commercial bribery is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year if the amount of the bribe is one thousand dollars ($1,000) or less, or by imprisonment in the county jail, or in the state prison for 16 months, or two or three years if the amount of the bribe exceeds one thousand dollars ($1,000).  (d) For purposes of this section:  (1) "Employee" means an officer, director, agent, trustee, partner, or employee.  (2) "Employer" means a corporation, association, organization, trust, partnership, or sole proprietorship.  (3) "Corruptly" means that the person specifically intends to injure or defraud (A) his or her employer, (B) the employer of the person to whom he or she offers, gives, or agrees to give the money or a thing of value, (C) the employer of the person from whom he or she requests, receives, or agrees to receive the money or a thing of value, or (D) a competitor of any such employer.")

7Related offenses are grand theft, trade secret theft (Penal Code 499c) and embezzlement.

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