According to Penal Code § 85 PC, it is illegal to bribe a California legislator or use any other corrupt methods, such as menace or deceit, to influence their voting decisions. A legislator includes state legislators and those of a city or county board.
A violation of this law is charged as a felony offense.
The language of the code section reads as follows:
85. Every person who gives or offers to give a bribe to any Member of the Legislature, any member of the legislative body of a city, county, city and county, school district, or other special district, or to another person for the member, or attempts by menace, deceit, suppression of truth, or any corrupt means, to influence a member in giving or withholding his or her vote, or in not attending the house or any committee of which he or she is a member, is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three or four years.
Note that a legislator or elected official receiving or requesting a bring is punished under Penal Code 86 PC.
Examples of illegal acts
- paying a legislator $10,000 for a “yes” vote on a particular matter.
- blackmailing a legislator to secure their favor on a position.
- funding a legislator’s vacation in trade for their support on a piece of legislation.
You can raise a legal defense to challenge any charges under this statute. A few common ones include:
- you did not act with criminal intent,
- you did not exhibit corrupt means, and/or
A violation of California Penal Code section 85 is charged as a felony. This is opposed to:
- a misdemeanor, or
- an infraction.
The crime is punishable by:
- custody in jail or prison for up to four years, or
- felony (or formal) probation.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will explain the following in this article:
- 1. When is it a crime to bribe a legislator?
- 2. What are the best defenses to Penal Code 85 PC?
- 3. What are the penalties for violating the law?
- 4. Can I get an expungement?
- 5. Are there related offenses?
1. When is it a crime to bribe a legislator?
A prosecutor must prove the following to successfully convict you of bribing a legislator:
- you gave or offered a bribe to a legislator, and
- you acted with the corrupt intent unlawfully to inﬂuence that legislator’s act, decision, or vote.1
For purposes of this law, you act with “corrupt intent” when you act to wrongfully gain a ﬁnancial or other advantage for yourself or someone else.2
PC 85 also makes it a crime to try to corruptly influence a legislator. A prosecutor must prove the following to convict you of this crime:
- you tried to influence a legislator in their vote,
- you did so by corrupt means, as in menace or deceit, and
- you acted with an intent to corruptly influence.3
Note that a “legislator” includes:
- state legislators,
- members of city or county legislative bodies, and
- members of school district legislative bodies.4
2. What are the best defenses to Penal Code 85 PC?
Our criminal defense attorneys draw upon several legal strategies to help defend bribery charges. A few common defenses include showing that:
- you did not act with criminal intent,
- you did not act with corrupt means, and
- you were entrapped.
2.1 No criminal intent
You are guilty of a bribery charge only if you acted with either:
- a corrupt intent, or
- an intent to corruptly influence.
Therefore, it is a defense to say that you did not act in such a manner.
2.2 No corrupt means
You are guilty of trying to corruptly influence a legislator only if you engaged in some type of corrupt means. It is always a defense, then, to show that you did not engage in this type of behavior.
Entrapment is a legal defense that says you only committed a crime because authorities lured you into doing so. The defense works provided that you show you committed the crime only because of the entrapment.
3. What are the penalties for violating the law?
A violation of this statute is a felony offense in California. The penalties include:
- a term of up to four years in jail or prison.
4. Can I get an expungement?
If you are convicted of bribing a legislator, you can only get an expungement provided that you receive probation (and complete it) in lieu of prison time.
California law says you cannot get a crime expunged if it results in a prison term.
5. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to this offense. These are:
- bribery by or of executive officers – PC 67 and 68,
- bribery by or of judges and jurors – PC 92 and 93, and
- bribery by or of witnesses – PC 137 and 138
5.1 Bribery by or of executive officers – PC 67 and 68
Penal Code 67 and Penal Code 68 are the California statutes that make the bribery by or of an executive officer a crime.
As with bribing a legislator, bribing an executive officer leads to felony charges.
5.2 Bribery by or of judges and jurors – PC 92 and 93
Penal Code 92 PC and Penal Code 93 PC are the California laws that make the bribery by or of judges and jurors a criminal offense.
As with PC 85, you are guilty under these laws only if you act with some type of corrupt intent.
5.3 Bribery by or of witnesses – PC 137 and 138
Penal Code 137 PC and Penal Code 138 PC make the bribery by or of a witness a felony offense.
Unlike PC 85, where you try to influence a legislator’s vote or opinion, these statutes pertain to a witness’ testimony.
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.
- California Penal Code 85 PC. See also CALCRIM No. 2600.
- California Penal Code 7(3) PC.
- California Penal Code 85 PC. As to intent, see United States v. Jackson (1995) 72 F.3d 1370.
- California Penal Code 85 PC.