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Bribery of a Witness Laws in California - Penal Codes 137 and 138 PC

The Crime Of Bribery By Or Of Witness - PC 137 & 138

Under California Penal Code 137 & 138 PC, it's a crime to accept a bribe or to make an attempt to bribe a witness in order to influence their testimony or attendance in court.

Bribery is a serious white collar offense that can lead to severe punishment if you are convicted.

Bribery of a Witness Laws in California - Penal Codes 137 and 138 PC
PC 137 & !38 makes it a crime to attempt to bribe a witness or accept a brine to influence their testimony.

In California, it's a felony crime for anyone to bribe a witness either to:

  • refuse to come to court to testify, or
  • refuse to cooperate with law enforcement or a prosecutor's office.

On the flip side, it is equally unlawful for a witness to:

  • accept a bribe in exchange for their non-cooperation, or
  • refusal to appear in court to testify.

Examples of bribery 

An example of bribery includes a situation where you tell a potential witness that unless they refuse to testify, their family will suffer the consequences.

Another example includes offering sex or other compensation to a police officer if they don't testify against you in court.

In order to give readers a better understating of California's bribery laws, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are providing a review below

What is the Definition of a Bribe?

Several important terms require definition to understand the scope of the bribery statutes and their applicability to a particular case.

A bribe is a broadly defined term under California law, which occurs when:

  • a witness modifies their testimony, or makes an agreement not to show up at a trial, in exchange for money or anything of value

Bribery charges are a two-edged sword, meaning:

  • someone can be convicted for offering a bribe to a witness, and
  • the witness could be convicted for accepting it

Actual exchange of cash money is not required, though a cash payment could certainly be a bribe. 

In other words, a witness is “bribed” within the meaning of the Penal Code any time they corruptly change their testimony or agrees not to appear to testify in court in exchange for money or any other thing of value. 

As stated, the act of bribery implicates both sides of the transactions. Both the briber and the bribee are guilty of a crime for engaging in the corrupt transaction.

What is PC 137(a) PC Bribery of a Witness Regarding Testimony?

Penal Code 137(a) PC specifically addresses bribery of a witness with regard to testimony in court cases and cooperation and communication with prosecutors and/or law enforcement officers. 

A bribe under PC 137(a) is complete where:

  • any person gives, or offers to give a witness
  • something of value to a person with corrupt intent to
  • influence the person's testimony or the content of their communications with law enforcement or prosecutors

Under PC 137(a) it's also a crime to use force, threats, or fraud to persuade a witness to give false testimony or withhold information.

The most straightforward example of a violation of penal Code 137(a) PC is when a crime suspect offers to pay cash money to a witness in exchange for that witness providing falsely exculpatory statements to the detective investigating the briber's crime.

What is PC 138(a) Bribery of Witness Regarding Trial Attendance?

Penal Code 138(a) PC addresses the attendance of witnesses to testify at trial. 

Unlike Penal Code 137(a), PC 138(a) violations must involve:

What is PC 138(a) Bribery of Witness Regarding Trial Attendance?
PC 138(a) deals with the unlawful conduct of a bribe in exchange for the witness to not appear at a trial.
  • a bribe in exchange for the witness
  • to not appear as required to testify at a trial in a court case

For example, if the defendant offers to give the witness a car – something of value – if they ignore a subpoena to testify at the defendant's trial.

Thus, the bribe in question is a violation of PC 138(a) PC, but not of PC 137(a), because it did not involve the contents of the witness' communications or testimony. 

Penal Code 138(b) PC 

Penal Code 138(b) PC is the flip side of Penal Code 138(a) PC, when:

  • a witness accepts a bribe not to appear for testimony

Accordingly, in the preceding example, the defendant who offered the bribe is guilty of bribery under Section 138(a) and the witness who accepted the bribe is guilty of bribery under Section 138(b).

What Are the Penalties for California Bribery of Witness Charges?

Bribery is typically a felony offense under California law. The penalties for a conviction under California Penal Code Section 137(a), 138(a), or 138(b) include:

What Are the Penalties for California Bribery of Witness Charges?
Bribery of witness charges are normally a felony crime that carries penalties of up to four years in prison.
  • two, three, or four years in the California state prison
  • court fines and fees

Other consequences include loss of 2nd Amendment rights.

If granted probation, the court can impose conditions such as:

  • community labor
  • community service
  • anger management, and
  • other appropriate conditions

Certain subdivisions of Penal Code Section 137 not discussed here can potentially be prosecuted as a misdemeanor.

What Are the Related California Offenses for PC 137 & 138?

  • Penal Code 67 & 68 PC – bribery of executive officers/public employees
  • Penal Code 85 & 86 PC – bribery of legislators
  • Penal Code 92 & 93 PC – bribery of judicial officers/jurors
  • Penal Code 165 PC – bribery of supervisors/public corporations
  • Penal Code 641.3 PC – commercial bribery
  • Penal Code 518 PC - extortion

How Can I Fight California Bribery of Witness Charges?

Our experienced Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers can use a variety of common defenses to a charge of PC 137 or PC 138 bribery, including:

  • lack of corrupt intent
  • you didn't offer or accept a bribe
  • you didn't agree to change testimony
  • entrapment by police

There are some situations in which a third party offers something of value to a witness unrelated to an attempt to influence their testimony or procure their unavailability to testify. 

For example, if a third party offers to pay for the witness' cab fare to allow the witness to make it to court because the witness is suffering from financial hardship, the witness might subjectively interpret that offer as an attempt to influence their testimony. 

Perhaps the person offering to pay the cab fare is a relative of the defendant, and the witness believes this is an attempted bribe. 

However, if the offer was genuinely unrelated to any attempt to influence the nature of the witness' testimony, it is not a bribe as the offer lacked corrupt intent. 

Contact Eisner Gorin LLP If Charged with Bribery

If you, or someone you know, has been accused of either offering or accepting a bribe within the meaning of the Penal Codes 137 or 138, contact our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys for a consultation.

Contact Eisner Gorin LLP If Charged with Bribery
Call our law firm to review the details of your bribery case.

Through the process of prefiling intervention, it may be possible to drop or reduce the charges before court.

Eisner Gorin LLP is a top-ranked criminal defense law firm located at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067.

Our main office is next to the Van Nuys Superior Courthouse at 14401 Sylvan St #112 Van Nuys, CA 91401.

Contact our office to review your case and options at (877) 781-1570.

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