Penal Code § 137 PC makes it a crime to give (or offer to give) a bribe to a witness for the purpose of influencing the person’s testimony or statements to law enforcement. Doing so is a felony punishable by up to four years in jail or prison.
While this statute makes it a crime for someone to bribe a witness, Penal Code 138 PC makes it a criminal offense for a witness to take a bribe.
The language of the code section reads as follows:
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 pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 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 included in Chapter 4.5 (commencing with Section 830) of Title 3 of Part 2.
(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.
“every person who gives or offers, or promises to give, to any witness, or a 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…is guilty of a felony.”
Examples of illegal acts
- giving a witness $10,000 for him/her to lie about seeing a defendant at the scene of the crime.
- handing an expert witness a blank check to falsify his/her testimony on DNA evidence.
- paying a former employee/witness to take back his/her harassment claim in a workplace harassment suit.
A person can always raise a legal defense to challenge a charge of bribery of a witness. A few common defenses include:
- the defendant did not offer a bribe to a “witness,”
- the accused did not exhibit a corrupt intent, and
The crime is punishable by:
- imprisonment in state prison for up to four years, and/or
- felony (or formal) probation.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. What is a crime under Penal Code 137?
- 2. Can a defendant assert a legal defense?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. Can a person get a bribery conviction expunged?
- 5. Are there related offenses?
1. What is a crime under Penal Code 137?
A prosecutor has to prove the following elements to successfully convict a person under this statute:
- the defendant gave or offered a bribe to a witness (or a person about to be called as a witness, or a person about to give material information to a law enforcement official about a crime), and
- the defendant acted with the corrupt intent to persuade the witness or person to agree that the bribe would unlawfully inﬂuence his/her testimony or information.1
A person acts with “corrupt intent” when he or she acts to wrongfully gain a ﬁnancial or another advantage for:
- herself, or
- someone else.2
2. Can a defendant assert a legal defense?
Our criminal defense attorneys advise clients that they can raise a legal defense to challenge a bribery charge. A few effective defenses include an accused showing that he/she:
- did not offer a bribe to a “witness,”
- did not act with corrupt intent, and
- was entrapped.
2.1 No witness
Recall that this statute only applies to the bribery of:
- a witness,
- a person about to be called as a witness,3 and
- people about to give material information to law enforcement.
This means it is always a defense for an accused to show that he did not offer a bribe to one of these parties. The defendant, though, could still potentially get charged under another California bribery law.
2.2 No corrupt intent
Also, recall that a person is only guilty under PC 137 if he acted with corrupt intent. Therefore, a defendant can always show that he did not act with this purpose.
This is a common defense when a person is charged as part of an undercover sting. The defense asserts that the accused only committed a crime because he was lured into doing so by a peace officer. It is an acceptable defense provided that the accused shows he/she only committed the crime because of the luring.
3. What are the penalties?
A violation of this statute is a felony offense.4
A judge can sentence a defendant to:
Note that with regards to non-citizens, a bribery conviction could lead to deportation.5
4. Can a person get a bribery conviction expunged?
A defendant convicted of bribery can get an expungement provided that he/she receives probation rather than prison time.
California law says that people cannot get a conviction expunged if an offense results in a prison term.
5. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to this statute. These are:
- bribery by or of executive officers – PC 67 and 68,
- bribery by or of legislators – PC 85 and 86
- bribery by or of judges and jurors – PC 92 and 93
5.1 Bribery by or of executive officers – PC 67 and 68
Note that the subject of this law is different from PC 137. While the latter focuses on the bribery of witnesses, this statute pertains to executive officers.
5.2 Bribery by or of legislators – PC 85 and 86
As with PC 137 convictions, convictions under these laws are charged as felonies.
5.3 Bribery by or of judges and jurors – PC 92 and 93
As with California Penal Code 137, defendants are only guilty under these laws if they act with corrupt intent.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group.
- CALCRIM No. 2610 – Giving or Offering a Bribe to a Witness. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2017 edition).
- See same. See also People v. Gliksman (1978) 78 Cal.App.3d 343.
- See, e.g., People v. Broce (1977) 76 Cal.App.3d 71.
- California Penal Code 137 PC.
- Cordes v. Gonzales (2005) 421 F.3d 889.