Nevada law imposes harsh penalties for using bribery to try to influence the outcome of a witness's testimony. The punishment may include prison and high fines. However, it may be possible to get the charge reduced to a lesser offense or even dismissed.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys summarize the Nevada offense of witness bribery. Continue scrolling down to learn more about the law including possible defenses and penalties.
The legal definition of the Nevada crime of witness bribery is twofold: It encompasses bribery of a witness and bribery by a witness:
Bribery of a witness in Nevada (NRS 199.240)
Bribery of a witness in Nevada occurs when someone "offers or promises any compensation, gratuity, or reward to any witness in an official proceeding, upon an agreement that his or her testimony will be thereby influenced." In other words, paying off a witness to "fix" the testimony. Take this example by Reno criminal defense attorney Michael Becker:
Example: Sandra's husband John is going to trial in Carson City for committing the Nevada crime of DUI. Sandra calls a witness who saw John drink a beer before he took the wheel. Sandra then offers the witness $1,000 to lie on the stand that John drank only soda. If caught, Sandra would be booked at the Washoe County Detention Center for bribing a witness.
Sandra could still be charged even if the witness refuses her bribe or makes a last minute decision on the stand to tell the truth. Nevada law criminalizes merely attempting to make a bribe regardless of what happens afterward. Note that if the witness in the above example does accept the bribe, he may be prosecuted for bribery by a witness under NRS 199.250.
Bribery by a witness in Nevada (NRS 199.250)
Conversely, bribery by a witness in Nevada occurs when a witness in an official proceeding "asks or receives any compensation, gratuity or reward, or any promise thereof, upon an agreement that his or her testimony will be influenced thereby." In short, a witness receiving money to "fix" his/her testimony.
Elko NV criminal defense lawyer Michael Becker explains:
Example: John is a key witness in an upcoming trial in Henderson for the Nevada crime of battery domestic violence. John then calls the defendant's parents and offers not to show up for the trial if they pay him $1,000. If the Las Vegas police learn of this phone call, they would take John to the Henderson Detention Center for committing bribery by a witness.
Similar to the last example, it does not matter if the defendant's parents turn down the bribe. John's action of offering the bribe is enough to warrant prosecution in Nevada. And if the defendant's parents agree to pay the money, they could be charged with bribery of a witness under NRS 199.240.
Bribery compensation in Nevada
A bribe does not have to involve money to be a crime. Nevada law prohibits bribes involving any kind of compensation, which includes not only cash and physical property but also favors and promises.
Bribery in federal law
Similar to Nevada law, federal law under 18 U.S.C. § 201 also criminalizes witness bribery. But Nevada Federal Court only has jurisdiction over witness bribery cases if the matter involves a federal case or otherwise affects interstate commerce. Otherwise, the case will be litigated only in state court.
For more information see our article on federal witness bribery laws.
Prosecutors often struggle proving a witness bribery claim because the crime has very specific elements that may not manifest in any evidence. The following are just some strategies a defense lawyer might use when fighting bribery charges in Nevada:
No intent. Bribery of or by witnesses is a specific intent crime. Consequently, a jury should not convict a defendant unless they believe the defendant specifically intended to influence the witness's testimony. Unless the prosecutor can produce sufficient evidence to show the defendant's intentions, the case should be dismissed.
Lack of evidence. Every criminal charge must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt before the defendant may be convicted. As long as the defense attorney can poke enough holes in the D.A.'s case and show that the state's evidence is inadequate to sustain a conviction for witness bribery, the defendant should not be held criminally liable.
Illegal police search. Sometimes the state has evidence that may have been discovered through an unconstitutional police search. In that case, the defense attorney may file a motion to suppress evidence in Nevada requesting that the judge throw out the illegally-obtained evidence. If the judge agrees, then the D.A. may drop the entire witness bribery case for lack of proof.
Note that it is not a defense to a Nevada charge of witness bribery if the trial or hearing in question has not been scheduled yet. It is also not a valid defense if the testimony that the defendant seeks would be inadmissible in the trial or hearing.
The crime of witness bribery is prosecuted as a category C felony in Nevada. The specific sentence a judge may impose depends on whether the bribery was of a witness or by a witness:
Bribery of a witness in Nevada under NRS 199.240 carries a sentence of:
- 1 - 10 years in Nevada State Prison, and
- maybe a fine of $50,000
Meanwhile, bribery by a witness in Nevada under NRS 199.250 carries a sentence of:
- 1 - 10 years in Nevada State Prison
- maybe a fine of $10,000
Federal witness bribery penalties
A conviction in federal court for witness bribery carries a sentence of:
- a fine of up to 3 times the bribe amount, and/or
- up to 15 years imprisonment (usually in either North Las Vegas Detention Center or Washoe County Detention Center)
If someone is convicted of witness bribery in both Nevada federal court and Nevada state court for the same incident, the defendant would serve both sentences one after the other.
Other Bribery Offenses in Nevada
Witness bribery is one of the most serious types of bribery crimes in Nevada. Below are links to our articles on other kinds of bribery offenses in the state:
We are here to help . . . .
Accused of witness bribery in Nevada? Then phone our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a free consultation today on how we can try to get your charge lessened or dismissed completely. We are also experienced trial attorneys who are ready to fight for your innocence in open court.
- Go back to our Nevada Bribery Law main page
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.