It doesn’t matter if you’re a police chief, a district attorney, a traffic clerk or a building inspector. In California, if you are a public official or employee and take a payoff in the course of your job you can be convicted of the crime of bribery.
This is a serious offense that can land you in jail.
But bribery charges can be a complicated and there are two sides to every story. If you’re accused of bribery you need an experienced attorney. Our California Criminal Defense Lawyers can help.1 We’re former prosecutors and police investigators and we know how to defend these complex cases.
This article covers California Penal Code 67 pc and Penal Code 68 pc, two of California’s bribery laws. 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
- California bribery laws,
- Penal Code 85 & 86 Bribery of Legislators,2
- Penal Code 92 & 93 Bribery of Judges or Jurors,3
- Penal Code 165 Bribery of Supervisors & Public Corporations,4
- Penal Code 137 & 138 Bribery of Witnesses,5
- Penal Code 641.3 Commercial Bribery6 and
- United States Federal Bribery Laws.
This article covers:
(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 public official corruptly makes a decision or does something official in exchange for money or something else of value.7
Bribery goes both ways…a person can be convicted of offering a bribe to an officer or public employee; and an officer or public employee can be convicted of soliciting or receiving a bribe.
2. Penal Code 67 pc – bribery of executive officers
California Penal Code Section 67 pc deals with bribes of executive officers. PC 67 makes it a felony for:
- any person to give or offer to give an executive officer
- something of value
- with a corrupt intent
- to influence the officer’s decision in an official matter8
Penal Code 67 pc covers “executive officers” in California, including:
- district attorneys9
- police chiefs10
- police officers11
- deputy city coroners12
Let’s look at an example:
Example: Anthony runs a tomato canning company in California’s central valley. A food safety inspector just quarantined a large portion of his inventory for containing mold and worms. Anthony secures a meeting with the top state food safety official. During the meeting, he slides an envelope across the desk, telling the official he’s got a “present” for him. The official raises his eyebrows and Anthony continues: “now you can release my cans from the brink.”
If the jury decides these words and actions amount to a bribe, Anthony can be convicted of a felony offense.13
3. Penal Code 67.5 pc – bribery of ministerial officers and public employees
California Penal Code Section 67.5 pc deals with bribes of ministerial officers and public employees. PC 67.5 makes it a felony for:
- any person to give or offer to give a ministerial officer or public employee
- something of value
- with a corrupt intent
- to influence the officer’s or employee’s decision in an official matter14
Examples of the workers covered by Penal Code 67.5 pc are:
- traffic clerk
- building inspector15
Generally, an officer will be considered “executive” if he/she has discretion in his/her job and “ministerial” if he/she basically just follows his/her boss’ instructions.
4. Penal Code 68 pc – bribery by officers and public employees
California Penal Code Section 68 pc deals with bribes by executive and ministerial officers and public employees. PC 68 makes it a felony for:
- an executive or ministerial officer or public employee to ask, receive, or agree to receive
- something of value
- with a corrupt intent
- to influence the officer’s or employee’s decision in an official matter16
Let’s look at an example:
Example: Defendant is a traffic clerk at a California courthouse. Last Wednesday, Rosalie, a familiar face appeared at the window…a friend of a friend from the neighborhood. When Rosalie presented a ticket for $220, Defendant smiled and said, in a low voice, “forget that, I can make it go away for $50.” Rosalie smiles and passes a $50 bill though the window. Defendant stamps her citation Recalled.
Defendant is liable for bribery. He’s a public employee and wrongfully sought to use his position to do something in return for money.17
5. Defenses to a bribery charge
There are defenses to bribery charges. They include:
- lack of corrupt intent
It’s often difficult to mount a successful defense in bribery cases and it often comes down to which side the jury believes. That’s why it is so important to have a California criminal defense attorney you can trust in your corner.
For more details on defenses to bribery charges, please see our related article California bribery laws.
6. Penalties for a bribery conviction
The penalties for bribery can be quite severe. They can include:
- forfeiture of office
- disqualification from future office
Except in certain situations, bribery is a felony. You can be sentenced to county jail for between two and four years.
If you are convicted of violating PC 68, you might also have to pay a restitution fine in the following amount:
- if the bribe was not received, between $2,000 and $10,000, or
- if the bribe was received,
- at least the bribe amount received or $2,000, whichever is greater, OR
- any larger amount of not more than twice the bribe amount received or $10,000, whichever is greater.
You will also have to forfeit your office and you will not be able to get it back.
Our California Criminal Defense Lawyers Can Help…
If you or loved one is charged with Penal Code 67 & 68 pc bribery of public officers 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.
If you are a cop being investigated, see our article on internal affairs investigations.
To learn about Nevada law, go to our informational article on Nevada laws for bribery by or of executive officers or public employees.
1Our California Criminal Defense Lawyers have local offices throughout the state, including Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona, Torrance, Van Nuys, West Covina, and Whittier.
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 and jurors.
4See California Penal Code section 165, dealing with bribery of members of county boards of supervisors and public corporations.
5See California Penal Code sections 137 and 138, dealing with bribery of witnesses regarding testimony or trial attendance.
6See California Penal Code section 641.3, dealing with commercial bribery.
7California Penal Code 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 67.5 PC — (“(a) Every person who gives or offers as a bribe to any ministerial officer, employee, or appointee of the State of California, county or city therein, or political subdivision thereof, any thing the theft of which would be petty theft is guilty of a misdemeanor. (b) If the theft of the thing given or offered would be grand theft the offense is a felony punishable by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.”).
9Singh v. Superior Court (1919) 44 Cal.App. 64.
10People v. Finkelstein (1950) 98 C.A.2d 545.
11See People v. Markham, supra, 64 C. 157 [police officer considered executive officer]; People v. Mathews (1954) 124 C.A.2d 67 [police officer considered executive officer]; but see People v. Britton (1962) 205 C.A.2d 561 [police officer considered ministerial officer]; People v. Longo (1953) 119 C.A.2d 416 [police officer considered ministerial officer] As indicated by these cases, it is sometimes unclear whether an officer such as a police officer is considered an executive or ministerial officer. The consequence of the distinction is in punishment – bribes of ministerial officers in amounts that constitute petty theft are misdemeanors instead of felonies. See Witkin and Epstein, Cal. Criminal Law (3rd) VIII 34 (“The term ‘executive officers’ in both P.C. 67 and 68 has been broadly interpreted to refer to any officer charged with the responsibility of enforcing the law and assigning subordinates to tasks.”)
12People v. Strohl, supra, 57 C.A.3d 347.
13Loosely based on People v. Zerillo (1950) 36 Cal.2d 222 [evidence sufficient for bribery finding but defendant should be allowed to introduce other evidence showing no corrupt intent]. See also People v. Strohl (1976) 57 C.A.3d 347.
14California Penal Code Section 67.5 (“(a) Every person who gives or offers as a bribe to any ministerial officer, employee, or appointee of the State of California, county or city therein, or political subdivision thereof, any thing the theft of which would be petty theft is guilty of a misdemeanor. (b) If the theft of the thing given or offered would be grand theft the offense is a felony.)
15People v. Walsh (1956) 47 Cal.2d 36.
16California Penal Code Section 68 (“(a) Every executive or ministerial officer, employee, or appointee of the State of California, a county or city therein, or a political subdivision thereof, who asks, receives, or agrees to receive, any bribe, upon any agreement or understanding that his or her vote, opinion, or action upon any matter then pending, or that may be brought before him or her in his or her official capacity, shall be influenced thereby, is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years and, in cases in which no bribe has been actually received, by a restitution fine of not less than two thousand dollars ($2,000) or not more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or, in cases in which a bribe was actually received, by a restitution fine of at least the actual amount of the bribe received or two thousand dollars ($2,000), whichever is greater, or any larger amount of not more than double the amount of any bribe received or ten thousand dollars ($10,000), whichever is greater, and, in addition thereto, forfeits his or her office, employment, or appointment, and is forever disqualified from holding any office, employment, or appointment, in this state. (b) In imposing a restitution fine pursuant to this section, the court shall consider the defendant’s ability to pay the fine.”)
17Loosely based on People v. Diamond (1988) 201 Cal.App.3d 1305. See also People v. Gaio, (2000) 81 Cal.App.4th 919.