Understanding Federal Bribery

Federal Bribery includes, but is not limited to, Bribery of Public Officials. The charge carries numerous penalties and steep exposure to the federal sentencing laws governing financial crimes. Often, however, this federal criminal charge is one that can be effectively defended against, provided that your NY criminal defense attorney conducts an independent investigation of the facts supporting the criminal allegations.

The reason for this is that often federal bribery charges occur when the recipient of the alleged bribe reports the incident to the federal authorities. Assuming the bribe was a one-time event (and not part of an ongoing criminal scheme to bribe officials) the federal criminal case will ultimately come down to the criminal defendant’s word against that of his or her accuser in federal court. In such cases, an experienced criminal trial attorney can discredit the accusing witness on cross-examination just enough to take advantage of the prosecution’s burden (of reasonable doubt). In cases that turn upon one witness’s word against that of our criminal client, we argue that that the prosecution has the burden to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Any doubt, therefore, in who is telling the truth in a criminal trial, the defendant or his accuser, must therefore be resolved in favor of our client. The criminal defense lawyers have no duty to prove that their client is innocent.

This scenario becomes much more problematic in the federal criminal court setting, however, where the bribe was one in many ongoing repetitive bribes making up a criminal course of conduct. This is so because usually in such situations the Assistant United States Attorney (the AUSA) was notified of the first bribe given. At that point, as in the Scruggs case, the recipient of the bribe, or other witness, will be wearing a wire the next time the bribe is given, or the telephone will be tapped to record a conversation about the bribe. Where evidence of an alleged federal bribe is recorded, winning the criminal defense at trial require more than hiring a top criminal lawyer. It requires a team of criminal attorneys focusing their best efforts round the clock on winning the federal criminal case. It requires mock trials practiced in front of random jury pools. Acquiring such resources for your criminal defense can be costly.

The federal bribery and gratuity statute[FN1] (“the statute”) includes two separate crimes: bribery of public officials[FN2] and illegal gratuity given to public officials.[FN3] The statute seeks to punish both public officials who accept bribes or illegal gratuities, as well as those who intend to influence public officials with such benefits. The most significant difference between the two crimes deals with the necessary intent in conveying the benefit. See, § 49:6.

The statute [FN4] makes it a punishable offense for any person to “directly or indirectly, corruptly give, offer or promise anything of value” to a “public official or a person who has been selected to be a public official.”[FN5] The relevant questions to ask when presented with a federal bribery case, then, are: (1) whether the official is a present or future “public official” under the statute; (2) whether the benefit was given, offered, or promised to the “public official” or was demanded, sought, received, or accepted by the “public official”; (3) whether the benefit was a “thing of value” under the statute; and (4) whether the gift, offer, or promise was made with corrupt intent or intent to influence an official act.

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