Federal law prohibits accepting, offering, or agreeing to bribes in exchange for an official act. In bribery cases, both the individual who offered or gave the bribe and the person who received it may face legal consequences. Bribery is considered a form of political or economic corruption. Most people associate bribes with political figures and judges, but sports coaches, leaders of smaller cities, and people of all levels of influence can be charged with accepting bribes, even if they are only volunteering public officials.

Penalties For Bribery

Giving and/or receiving a bribe is both a state and federal crime. Therefore, a conviction will lead to harsh consequences. And there is a good reason for that. People want to live in a just and honorable society. If their interests are undermined by corrupt politicians, it can lead to problems that reverberate on a local, state, or even national level. So the court and the government take bribery seriously to protect the well-being of the populace. Bribery is considered a felony, which carries with it a sentence of at least one year in prison.

Additionally, the penalties can be social and have a long-term effect on one’s reputation. A politician, sheriff, or another public figure could be terminated or asked to resign. The effects can reverberate throughout a public figure’s entire career or life. Any person accused of a crime, however, is afforded due process under the law. If you’re facing bribery charges, you need the representation of an experienced criminal defense lawyer.


Bribery of Public Officials

Giving or receiving of anything of value to or by a public official with the intent to influence an official act, such as a vote, or as compensation for being influenced is considered one of the types of bribery of public officials. The other type refers to “gratuities,” which is when something of value is given because of an official act after the fact as a “thanks” or as a nonspecific way to win the favor of a public official.

What Does “White-Collar Crime” Mean?

White-collar crime is a type of financially motivated nonviolent crime when a person uses pretenses to illegally obtain money from another person. Other examples include embezzlement, tax evasion, and identity theft. These all have a common goal of eventually receiving an economic, financial, political, or some other gain. White-collar crimes tend to happen in business settings and at corporations. Many times the offenders are members of the executive management or they are directors or government officials.

Bribery is distinct from other types of white-collar crimes. Extortion, for example, is very similar to bribery but often involves threats. The person who initiates extortion is usually also the receiver, hence using tactics to intimidate or cause fear. Bribes also don’t have to necessarily be committed with the intention of causing harm to others.

Some bribes can lead to positive changes in municipalities and raise trust in a political figure. The Latin phrase “quid pro quo” means “this for that” and is very similar to extortion and bribery. However, it doesn’t relate to contracts or legal business transactions, of course. Every day people legally exchange money for goods. Quid pro quo, on the other hand, is an element of bribery when committed with the intent to influence a public official’s actions.

How Federal Penalties for Bribery Work

While California has its state statute of bribery offenses, federal charges may also apply. If you are arrested on federal bribery charges, enhancements may stack on top of the base bribery charge. The unique characteristics of your case may trigger enhancements. 18 U.S. Code § 201 covers the Bribery of Public Officials and Witnesses. This statute differentiates between a quid-pro-quo arrangement with a public official and the offering or acceptance of a gratuity.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines

The Base Offense Level for bribery is a Level 8 offense, but there are a variety of enhancements that can be applied depending on a range of circumstances. 

For example, according to the United States Sentencing Commission Guidelines Manual, §2B4.1. Bribery in Procurement of Bank Loan and Other Commercial Bribery states:

  1. If the greater of the value of the bribe or the improper benefit to be conferred (A) exceeded $2,500 but did not exceed $6,500, increase by 1 level; or (B) exceeded $6,500, increase by the number of levels from the table in §2B1.1 (Theft, Property Destruction, and Fraud) corresponding to that amount.


  1. (Apply the greater) If—
    1. The defendant derived more than $1,000,000 in gross receipts from one or more financial institutions as a result of the offense, increase by 2 levels; or
    2. The offense substantially jeopardized the safety and soundness of a financial institution, increase by 4 levels. 

There is a range of other bribery charges that have different Base Levels and therefore different enhancements, all of which we will be happy to discuss in greater detail during our initial consultation.


Stanford Law School runs the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Clearinghouse website where it reports a “heat map” of intensity for famous bribery cases in the United States. At the top of the list, the most egregious is Goldman Sachs’ connection to Malaysia and the U.A.E. between 2009 and 2014. At the bottom of their list is Siemans for their involvement all over the world, with countries on almost every continent. According to the International Monetary Fund, 5 percent of global GDP, or $1.5 trillion, is exchanged every year in the form of bribes. Bribery is extremely dangerous because it is intricately tied with human trafficking, narcotics trafficking, and even terrorism.
According to the United States Sentencing Commission, there were 214 people sentenced after being convicted of bribery charges in 2018. However, they also noted that since the 2014 fiscal year, the amount of bribery offenders has decreased by 31.2%.

What Can You Do If You’re Charged With Bribery

If you’ve been arrested for bribery or are under investigation for public corruption, you’re entitled to the best legal defense available. Contact the San Diego legal team at the Law Offices of Vikas Bajaj immediately. We stand ready to defend you in state and federal court.