Bribery of a Witness (California Penal Codes Sections 137-138)
In California, under California’s Penal Codes 137-138, it is unlawful to accept a bribe or to attempt to bribe another in order to influence witness testimony or attendance. This scenario seems like something out of a gangster movie, but if convicted in real life, you can be charged with a serious felony and spend up to four years in prison.
Specifically, California Penal Code 137(a) and (b) make it a felony for you to give offers, promises, use force or threats of force, or bribe a witness or any person about to give material information related to a crime to police or an official in an attempt to influence that person. Here are some examples:
- Offering money or sexual favors to a police officer so that he lets you off or writes a favorable police report. [Penal Code 137(a)]
- Telling a potential witness that unless he refuses to testify, you will make sure that he, she, or his/her family suffers. [Penal Code 137(b)]
- Offering money or sexual favors to a police officer so that he or she does not testify against you in court. [Penal Code 138(a)]
- You witness your friend get into accident and the police want to take your statement. Your friend asks you to lie to the police. You think about it, and then tell him I will give a false statement saying the accident wasn’t you fault if you pay my rent next month. [Penal Code 138(b)]
California Penal Code 137(c) makes it a misdemeanor for you to knowingly induce another person to give false testimony or withhold testimony related to a crime even if no bribe is offered. In that last example, the friend could be charged with California Penal Code 137(c).
Prosecution of PC 137 and PC 138
In order to be convicted of giving or offering a bribe to a witness in violation of California Penal Code 137(a), the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that 1:
- (1) You gave, offered, promised a bribe to a witness, a person about to be called as a witness, or a person about to give material information to a law enforcement official about a crime or to someone acting on that witness’s or person’s behalf; AND
- (2) You acted with the corrupt intent to persuade the witness/person to agree that the bribe would unlawfully influence the testimony or information that the witness/person would give.
To be convicted of California Penal Code 138(a), the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that 2:
- (1) You gave, offered, promised a bribe to a witness, person about to be called as a witness, or a person about to give material information to a law enforcement official about a crime or to someone acting on that witness’s or person’s behalf; AND
- (2) You acted with the corrupt intent the bribe would unlawfully persuade the witness/person not to attend a trial or other judicial proceeding.
To be convicted of California Penal Code 138(b), the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that 3:
- (1) You were a witness or about to be called as a witness;
- (2) You received or offered to receive a bribe;
- (3) When you received or offered to receive the bribe, you expressly or impliedly represented that the bribe would unlawfully influence your testimony or cause you not to attend the trial or other judicial proceeding; AND
- (4) You acted with the corrupt intent that the bribe would unlawfully influence your testimony or cause you not to attend the trial or other judicial proceeding.
A bribe is defined for purposes of Penal Codes 137-138 as a benefit, advantage, or anything of present or future value given in exchange for the witness’s cooperation in giving false testimony, withholding information, or refusing to testify 4.
Possible Defenses to a Bribery of a Witness Charge
Our skilled criminal defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich know the legal defenses to Penal Code 137 and Penal Code 138. These defenses include:
- You never offered nor accepted a bribe; OR
- You did not act with corrupt intent to bribe a witness; OR
- Even if you accepted or offered a benefit or something of value that could be construed as a bribe, you did not represent that you accepted it in exchange for you testimony; OR
- You were entrapped by the police, meaning that (1) the a government agency induced you to accept/offer a bribe and (2) you were not predisposed to offering/accepting a bribe anyways.
Sentencing and Punishment for Bribing a Witness
As a felony, if you are convicted of Penal Codes 137(a) or (b), or 138(a) or (b) you face two, three, or four years in prison. 5
Penal Code 137(c) is a misdemeanor, and thus if convicted, you can be sentenced up to 364 days in county jail.
Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Bribery of a Witness
What qualifies as “corrupt intent”?
The law says that you have acted with corrupt intent when you do something to wrongfully gain any advantage, financial or otherwise for yourself or another.
How is bribery of a witness different from extortion?
Bribery differs from extortion in that to convict you of extortion, the prosecution must prove the additional element of coercion. It is also worth noting that one cannot be convicted of both extortion and receiving a bribe resulting from the same incident. 6
Can I be charged even if I never intended to actually follow through with the bribe?
It is not necessary that the bribe or thing of value was actually given or even exists at the time of the offer to give or receive a bribe. All that matters is that the bribe was in fact made and the parties at the time intended it to influence the witness or testimony in some way.
Contact Wallin & Klarich if You Have Been Charged with Bribing a Witness
If you or a loved one has been charged with violating California Penal Code 137 PC or Penal Code 138 PC, you need to contact an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney immediately.
Wallin & Klarich has been successfully defending clients facing criminal charges for over 40 years. We will meet with you immediately to review the facts of your case, and plan a defense strategy that will help you get the very best outcome possible.
With offices located in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney available to help you no matter where you work or live.
Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.