Bribery Laws in California

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Overview of Bribery Penal Code Articles 

There are multiple California Penal Code articles for bribery and all different types of bribery. Each penal code article, or group of articles, are the definitions of bribery involving different people (i.e. executive officers, legislators, judicial officials, etc.) 

In general, all of California’s bribery laws make it a criminal offense for certain people to offer a bride or take or receive a bribe. 

Definition of a Bribe 

A bribe is: 

  1. something of present or future value (or a promise to give such a thing),
  2. given, offered, or taken with a corrupt intent, and
  3. given, offered, or taken to unlawfully influence the person to whom it is given in any public or official capacity.

All of these bribing statutes apply to both sides of the transaction. This means that they apply to the person who offers the bribe, as well as the person who takes, or accepts, the bribe. 

Additionally, it does not matter if the accused actually made or received a bribe; all that matters to prove guilt is the thinking about the bribe and acting on it. 

Further, a person acts with “corrupt intent” when he or she acts to wrongfully gain a financial or other advantages for himself, herself, or someone else. 

Bribery by or of an Executive Officer - Penal Codes 67 and 68 

Under these California statutes, it is a felony to bribe an executive officer or for an executive officer to accept a bribe. 

An “executive officer” is defined as government officials who use their discretion in performing job duties (i.e. a police officer, district attorney, etc).  

Bribery by or of a Legislator - Penal Codes 85 and 86

Under these California statutes, it is a crime to bribe a legislator or for a legislator to accept a bribe. Legislators include state legislators, members of city/county legislative bodies, and/or members of school district legislative bodies. 

Bribery by or of a Judicial Officer - Penal Codes 92 and 93

Under these California statutes, it is a felony to bribe a judicial officer or for a judicial officer to accept a bribe. A judicial officer includes judges, jurors, and any other person authorized to hear a legal matter. 

Bribery by or of a Witness in a Crime - Penal Codes 137 and 138

Under these California statutes, it is a crime to bribe a witness to a crime or for a witness to a crime to accept a bribe. 

Bribery by or of County Board Members - Penal Code 165

Under this California statute, it is a crime to bribe a member of the county board of supervisors or for a member of the board to accept a bribe. The statute also applies to members of: common councils, county/city board of trustees, and public corporation’s board of trustees. 

Commercial Bribery - Penal Code 641.3

Under this California statute, the crime of commercial bribery is defined as an offense when an employee takes a bribe from a person in exchange for using his/her employment position for the benefit of the other party. 

Some examples of criminal acts of commercial bribery include: 

  • paying a few elected officials $10,000 each for a “yes” vote on a particular matter.
  • handing an expert witness a blank check to falsify his/her testimony on DNA evidence.
  • a corporate executive accepting $25,000 from a certain media outlet in exchange for informing it of questionable hiring policies of his/her employer 

Legal Defenses to all types of Bribery Charges 

If you are charged with one or more of the bribery statutes, you and your attorney can challenge the charges. There are a few legal defenses available to you, depending on the facts and circumstances surrounding your case. 

Your experienced criminal attorney will be better able to aid you in this and making the best arguments for your case. 


The majority of bribery charges and convictions are felonies. They are punishable by up to four years in state prison and/or felony probation 

The only exception is for commercial bribery. Commercial bribery can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the amount involved in the bribe. 

If the amount is less than $1,000, the commercial bribery charge is a misdemeanor. It is punishable by up to one year in county jail. 

In contrast, if the amount is more than $1,000, the commercial bribery charge is a felony. It is punishable by up to three years in state prison. 


Expungement is available if you were convicted of misdemeanor bribery and successfully completed a jail term or probation. 

Expungement is also available if you were convicted of felony bribery and were only sentenced to probation; not prison time. If you were sentenced to prison time, you cannot expunge the conviction.