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The Felony Crime of Bribery of a Witness in California

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Mar 16, 2021 | 0 Comments

Review of Bribery and Related Crimes Under California Law

California Penal Code 137 “bribery of a witness” law makes it a crime for someone to give, offer to give, any bribe to a witness for the purpose of influencing their testimony.

The closely related Penal Code 138 PC “witness taking a bribe” law makes it a crime for a witness to take or ask for a bribe when it influences their testimony or availability to testify at a court proceeding.

Bribery of a Witness in California – Penal Code 137 and 138 PC
Bribery of a witness is a felony crime in California punishable by up to 4 years in prison.

Both PC 137 and PC 138 are felony crimes punishable by up to four years in a California state prison.

Bribery is a white collar offense that involves influencing another to act or speak in a certain way, generally by offering them something of value.

When one individual has bribed another, both persons can receive a formal charge for a bribery offense under California law.

A common example includes a situation where a person offers a witness money if they don't show up at a criminal trial.

The specific good exchanged to complete the bribe can include:

  • money,
  • gifts,
  • promises,
  • physical objects, such as new car.

While the court does not need a specific written agreement to demonstrate that a bribe has happened, the prosecution will need to show clear intent to receive or administer a bribe.

Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys are providing readers more information below.

What the Prosecution Needs to Prove for Bribery Conviction

The crime of bribery occurs when:

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

As you can see, California bribery charges can be filed against someone who offered a bribe to a witness, AND the witness who accepted.

What the Prosecution Needs to Prove for Bribery Conviction
The prosecutor will have to prove there was corrupt intent to convict someone of bribery.

To obtain a bribery conviction, the prosecution needs to prove all the elements of the crime (CALCRIM 2610):

  • defendant's offer of clear value between involved parties,
  • defendant acted with a corrupt intent.

The term “corrupt intent” means they unlawfully acted to gain a financial advantage to themselves or someone else.

The person receiving the bribe doesn't need to have agreed to it or received it for the person offering the bribe to commit a crime. 

This means that the offer alone constitutes attempted bribery.

Penalties for Bribery in the State of California

The crime of bribery in California typically considers this crime a felony.  

If you are convicted of Penal Code 137 or 138 PC, the associated legal penalties could include:

  • up to four years of prison time,
  • a varying range of fines,
  • formal felony probation.

However, bribery, as it demonstrates a significant moral failing in all involved parties can also result in mandatory losses of rights or remedial actions for a time after the completion of the crime.

These alternative consequences can include:

  • loss of 2nd Amendment rights,
  • probation,
  • community service,
  • anger management courses.

Offenses Related to Bribery in California

California legislature contains the following subsections that cover crimes similar to those described in PC 137 and PC 138:

Penal Code 67 and 68 PC - bribery of executive offers or public employees,

Penal Code 85 and 86 PC – bribery of legislators,

Penal Code 92 and 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.

What Are Common Defenses for Bribery Charges in California?

When you first meet with our criminal lawyers, we will review the specifics of your alleged crime and work with you to build a strong defense.

Some common defense strategies include:

Lack of corrupt intent to commit the crime

The prosecution must demonstrate proof of corrupt intent in order to convict an individual or party of bribery.

This involves showing that one person completed their actions with the full intent to influence another's.

We might opt to portray your actions - whether you were giving or receiving a bribe - as incidental. This is not a defense that you should mount on your own, as it can be difficult to argue successfully.

Mistakes were made 

Our defense team may work to show that you panicked at the prospect of a tough situation. You may be able to use this lack of premeditation to argue for ultimate innocence or decreased penalties.

What Are Common Defenses for Bribery Charges in California?
There are a wide range of common defense strategies to fight charges of bribery.

You were intoxicated

We might be able to make an argument that you were voluntarily intoxicated when you offered or accepted a bribe. You'll need to show evidence of your intoxication to mount this defense.

You were coerced 

We might argue that you felt that you had to give something of value to another, perhaps for the benefit or safety of a loved one. In this case, you may be able to use duress as a defense.

You were victim of a false allegation 

Our criminal lawyers may attempt to show that your alleged crime was not a crime at all, or that you are the victim of a case of false accusation. 

Police entrapment 

If you were arrested as part of an undercover sting, an entrapment defense is a common argument.

Perhaps you only committed bribery because you were lured or persuaded by police, and you would have not illegally acted otherwise.

Criminal Defense for California Bribery Cases

If you are under investigation or already arrested and charged with bribery, you will need to consult with our experienced team of criminal defense lawyers.

Criminal Defense for California Bribery Cases
Call our law firm to discuss the specific details of the case and legal options moving forward.

We will review all of the details regarding your case and build you the best possible defense against your bribery allegations.

We have a record of success in obtaining a favorable outcome.

We might be able to negotiate with the prosecutor for reduced charges or even avoid the formal filing of charges through prefiling intervention.

Eisner Gorin LLP is a criminal defense law firm located at 1999 Avenue of the Stars, 11th Fl., Los Angeles, CA 90067.

Our main office is located in the San Fernando Valley at 14401 Sylvan St #112 Van Nuys, CA 91401.

Call (877) 781-1570 for a free immediate response.

About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Find me on Google+ Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...


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