PENAL CODE 137 & 138: BRIBERY BY OR OF WITNESS
California Penal Codes 137 and 138 state it is a crime to accept a bribe or to make an attempt to bribe a witness in order to influence testimony or attendance in court. This is an offense which prosecution agencies take seriously and may lead to severe punishment if convicted.
It is a felony offense for any person 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.
Similarly, 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.
As a way to clarify what bribery means, imagine a situation where someone tells a witness that if they testify, their family will be hurt. Conversely, it would also be a crime if someone offered sex to a police officer if the officer then refused to testify against them in court
DEFINING A “BRIBE”
California defines bribery as occurring when a witness modifies their testimony, or makes an agreement not to show up at trial, in exchange for money or anything of value. Bribery charges can be brought against either party, meaning you can be convicted for offering OR accepting a bribe. And as stated above, while offering money is one way to bribe a witness, it is not the only method. Therefore, a witness is properly bribed when the corruptly change their testimony or agree to not appear in court in exchange for money or anything else of value.
PC 137(A) BRIBERY OF A WITNESS ELEMENTS
PC 137(a) addresses bribery of a witness regarding testimony in court cases and cooperation and communication with the prosecuting agency and/or law enforcement. A PC 137(a) violation occurs when:
- 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.
PC 137(a) also states it is a crime to use force, threats, or fraud to influence a witness to give false testimony or to withhold information.
PC 138(A) BRIBERY OF WITNESS REGARDING TRIAL ATTENDANCE
PC 138(a) relates to the attendance of witnesses to testify at trial. Pc 138(a) violations must involve:
- A bribe in exchange for the witness
- To not appear as required to testify at trial in a court case
Compare this example to the one above regarding PC 137(a): a defendant offers to give a witness tickets to a baseball game if they ignore a subpoena requesting them to testify at defendant’s trial. The difference here from a 137(a) charge is that the bribe did not involve the contents of the witness’s communications or testimony.
PC 138(b) is the other side of a 138(a) charge, meaning it applies when a witness accepts a bribe not to appear for testimony. Therefor, in the baseball ticket example above, the person who offered the bribe is guilty of PC 138(a) and the witness who accepted the bribe is guilty of 138(b).
BRIBERY OF WITNESS PENALTIES IN CALIFORNIA
Typically, bribery is a felony under California law. The penalties for PC 137(a), 138(a), or 138(b) include:
- Two, three, or four years in the California state prison
- Court fines and fees
There might be other penalties associated, as this crime is a felony. Those may include the loss of the right to possess or own firearms. As always, the court may grant probation, which has associated conditions, such as: community labor or service, anger management, or other conditions the court sees fit.
RELATED OFFENSES IN CALIFORNIA
- PC 67 & 68 – bribery or executive officers/public employees
- PC 85 & 86 – bribery of legislators
- PC 92 & 93 – bribery of judicial officers/jurors
- PC 165 – bribery of supervisors/public corporations
- PC 641.3 – commercial bribery
- PC 518 – extortion
HOW TO FIGHT A BRIBERY OF WITNESS CHARGE IN CALIFORNIA
Our team of experience criminal defense lawyers is specifically situated to apply differing strategies in your defense, such as:
- Lack of corrupt intent
- You did not offer or accept a bribe
- You did not agree to change testimony
- Entrapment by police
If you, or someone you know, has been accused of offering or accepting a bribe within the meaning of the above Penal Codes, please contact our office as soon as possible. We may be able to use the process of prefiling intervention to possibly reduce or even drop your charges.