It is a federal crime to try to influence or reward a witness's testimony through bribery. The punishment includes fines or even prison. And depending on the case, the defendant may face state bribery charges as well as federal charges in Nevada.
This article provides a summary of the federal crime of witness bribery in Nevada. Keep reading for more information about the law, common defenses, and potential punishments for federal and state bribery convictions.
Violations of federal witness bribery law occur in one of two main ways in Nevada:
- A person offers money to a witness in exchange for the witness changing his/her testimony or not giving testimony at all, OR
- A witness seeks money in exchange for changing his/her testimony or not giving testimony at all
In other words, there may be bribery of witnesses or bribery by witnesses. Note that non-money valuables such as property or even political favors can be used for bribery as well. Reno criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse gives an example:
A witness in a Nevada federal criminal trial seeks out the defendant's wife in a Henderson bar. The witness tells the wife that he will testify that the defendant is innocent in exchange for the wife paying for an operation the witness needs. If a cop overhears the witness, the cop would arrest and book him at the Henderson NV Detention Center on federal charges of witness bribery.
Also note in the preceding example that the wife may be prosecuted for bribery as well if she accepts the witness's offer. It does not matter if the witness ultimately tells the truth on the witness stand or if the wife decides later not to pay the witness. The act of offering or agreeing to a bribe would be sufficient to warrant federal criminal prosecution in Nevada.
Bribery Attempts and Conspiracies to Bribe
Bribery remains a crime even if the bribe offer is not ultimately accepted. Simply attempting or conspiring to influence the outcome of witness testimony through bribery qualifies as a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 201 in Nevada. Elko NV criminal defense attorney Michael Becker gives an illustration:
The wife of a defendant in a Nevada federal criminal trial mails a letter to a witness offering her $1,000 to testify that the defendant is innocent. However, the witness never receives the letter because the wife accidentally put down the wrong address. If law enforcement ever sees that letter, she could still be arrested by the U.S. Marshals Service in Nevada for attempting to bribe a witness.
Learn more about conspiracy in Nevada criminal law.
Rewarding witness testimony
There is a type of witness bribery in federal law where money is not offered to influence witness testimony. Rather, the money is offered as a reward or a "thank you" for witness testimony. Predictably, this form of witness bribery carries less harsh penalties because there is no intent to "fix" the witness's testimony.
Definition of "witness"
Federal witness bribery laws apply not only to court trials and hearings. The law pertains to all testimony under oath or affirmation before any government agency, commission, or Congressional committee in the United States.
Federal versus state laws for witness bribery
A person may be charged with breaking federal witness bribery laws only if the incident involved a federal case or otherwise affected "interstate commerce." If the alleged bribery occurred outside the sphere of federal law and commerce, then the defendant would be liable only under state witness bribery laws.
Nevada witness bribery laws under NRS 199.240 and NRS 199.250 are largely the same as federal witness bribery laws. Remember that defendants may be prosecuted in both federal court as well as state court for the same witness bribery incident as long as it involved or affected interstate commerce. Read more about Nevada witness bribery laws.
There are many possible defenses to federal charges of witness bribery in Nevada. Below are some general strategies a defense attorney may consider employing:
- The defendant had no intent to bribe. A key element of the federal crime of witness bribery is that the defendant intended for the money to influence the witness's testimony. This is because bribery is considered a specific intent crime, where the defendant's state of mind is crucial to determining his/her liability. As long as the prosecution cannot prove that the defendant had the requisite criminal intent, the charges should be dropped.
- The case was not a federal matter. A case may be handled in Nevada federal court only if it involves a federal case or otherwise implicates interstate commerce. If the defense attorney can demonstrate that the alleged bribery was an intrastate matter, then the defendant faces only state criminal charges and not federal criminal charges.
- There is insufficient evidence to convict. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Nevada has the burden to prove a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the defense attorney can show that the government's evidence is too inadequate, irrelevant, or contradictory to sustain a conviction, the witness bribery case may be dismissed.
People charged with witness bribery under federal law in Nevada have their cases handled in either the Lloyd George Federal Courthouse in Las Vegas or the Thompson Courthouse in Reno. Penalties for offering or accepting a bribe with the intent to influence witness testimony include:
- a fine of up to three (3) times the bribe amount, and/or
- up to fifteen (15) years imprisonment
Furthermore, the defendant may be disqualified from holding public office in the United States. Meanwhile, penalties for offering or accepting money as a reward for witness testimony include:
- a fine that depends on the specifics of the case, and/or
- up to two (2) years imprisonment
Note that Nevada currently has no federal prisons in the state. Therefore, people who have been sentenced to prison in federal court are typically housed in either the North Las Vegas Detention Center or the Washoe County Detention Center.
Bribery of or by a witness is punished as a category C felony in Nevada under NRS 199.240 and 199.250. Consequently, a defendant convicted of breaking Nevada state witness bribery laws faces a sentence of:
- one (1) to five (5) years in Nevada State Prison and
- maybe a fine of up to $10,000 (for bribery by a witness) or $50,000 (for bribery of a witness)
As stated earlier, a defendant facing federal bribery charges in Nevada can usually also be prosecuted in Nevada state court for the same incident. If a defendant is convicted in both federal and state courts, he/she would serve the two sentences consecutively.
Arrested? Get the help of a lawyer . . . .
If you have been accused of federal witness bribery crimes, phone our Nevada criminal defense attorneys at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a free meeting to discuss your case. Our first line of defense is to try to get the charges dismissed or reduced to a minor offense. And if necessary, we will leverage our vast experience as trial attorneys to fight zealously for a "not guilty" verdict.
For information about the California crime of witness bribery| California Penal Code 137 & 138 PC, go to our page on the California crime of witness bribery | California Penal Code 137 & 138 PC.