BRIBERY AND CORRUPTION OF JUDGES AND JURORS
Our court system relies on the purity of the judge and jurors to ensure that justice is properly served. When either Judges or jurors choose to accept a bribe in order to taint the verdict in a case, they corrupt the entire judicial system. Bribery and corruption of judges and jurors is set forth in N.R.S. 199.010 through 199.090.
Bribery seems pretty obvious. Is there anything unusual about the definition?
N.R.S. 199.010 defines bribery of a judicial officer as “a person who gives, offers or promises, directly or indirectly, any compensation, gratuity or reward to a judicial officer, juror, referee, arbitrator, appraiser, assessor or other person authorized by law to hear or determine any question, matter, cause, proceeding or controversy, with the intent to influence his or her action, vote, opinion or decision thereupon.”
As with any statute, it is easiest to understand if you read through it and understand each clause. With any bribery question, there are three issues involved, the ‘how’, the ‘who’ and the ‘what.’
Please Note: It is important to remember that while we are only dealing with the giving of a bribe, Nevada treats the solicitation of a bribe, that is the request that someone bribe you, in exactly the same manner. If you have been charged with soliciting a bribe, then all of the following will still apply.
So, then, what do I need to know about the first clause?
The first clause is pretty straightforward. A person who “gives, offers or promises, directly or indirectly, any compensation, gratuity or reward…” In other words, payment of any kind, even if it is only an implied offer of payment that is never specifically stated, can be considered a bribe.
The first clause, then, is the ‘how’ part and refers specifically to the payment aspect of a bribe and, as with most laws, is left intentionally vague. The payment does not have to be made with money, nor does it have to be specifically called a “payment.” In fact, so long as you offer something of value, then you can satisfy the payment aspect of bribery.
Okay, then what is the second clause?
The second clause, then refers to the “who” aspect of bribery; “to a judicial officer, juror, referee, arbitrator, appraiser, assessor or other person authorized by law to hear or determine any question, matter, cause, proceeding or controversy.” This clause should also seem pretty straightforward, it simply means that any person that is authorized by law to make a decision in any kind of proceeding. Generally, in the legal setting, this will refer to either a judge or a juror. However, with the growth of alternative dispute resolution, arbitrators and mediators are probably more likely to be the targets of attempted bribery.
The third clause must be the “what” clause, then?
Exactly. The third clause, “with the intent to influence his or her action, vote, opinion or decision thereupon,” explains “what” bribery laws are attempting to stop. In the case of NRS 199.010, the law is trying to stop the intent, or intentional attempt, to influence or effect the action, vote, opinion, or decision of the ‘who’ described in clause two.
Consequently, the third clause is often the most important aspect of the law to focus on for both the prosecution and defense. While all three clauses are necessary in order for you to be convicted of bribery, the third clause is the most difficult to find and to prove because it seeks to determine the often unspoken and unknown thoughts and intentions of the person charged (more on this later).
If I’ve been charged with bribery of a Judge or Juror, what penalties am I facing?
In Nevada, bribery of a Judge or Juror is a class C Felony. It carriers a penalty of:
- At least one (1) year, but no more than (5) years in prison; and
- A fine of up to $1,000.00.
Okay, so how do I defend against a bribery charge?
There are three main defenses against a bribery charge, that may apply to your specific circumstances:
No Intent: This one was mentioned briefly earlier. This is probably the most common defense against a bribery charge because it is a very broad defense that encompasses the lack of intent to give something of value, the lack of intent to give, offer, or promise something of value to a judge or juror, and the lack of intent to influence a decision.
Value: As noted above, the first prong of a bribery charge is that you must give, offer, or promise something of value. So what is something of value? This is a difficult question to answer, and must be left to the judge or jury in your case to determine. However, as a general rule, the trier of fact (the judge, jury, etc.) will determine if the gift, offer, or promise would be considered “of value” to the average person in your (and the other party’s) position, class, level of education, etc. In other words, if the gift, offer, or promise is something that most people would think of as “having value”, then this will satisfy the ‘value’ element.
Please Note: the actual value is important but goes more towards the intent to gift, offer or promise and the lack of intent to influence defenses discussed below.
- Gift, Offer, or Promise: Another defense that may apply to you is the lack of an intent to give, offer, or promise something to a judge, juror, or other judicial official. This is not a common defense, mostly because it is can be almost impossible to prove. However, in some circumstances, you may have thing of value changed from your possession to the judicial official’s possession with no intent on your part. If, for example, you donated something to a charity auction, and the other party bought for an incredibly small sum. This may seem like a gift, but in reality is nothing more than good fortune for the other party. Another example is a situation where you lost something of value and the other party found it and kept it (whether they did so after turning it over to the proper people or not is a non-issue here). Again, you had no intent to give, offer, or promise that item to the other party, so the second clause in NRS 199.010 has not been satisfied.
- Influence: This is probably the most common of the intent defenses because it applies most often, and also because it is usually the most difficult for a prosecutor to prove. This defense applies to situations where you intended to give, offer, or promise something of value to a judge, juror or other judicial official, but you do not intend to influence their decision. The most obvious example of this is where you make a donation to a judge’s campaign or other cause. Such a donation is not usually made with the intent that it influence the judge’s actions or decisions, but rather because you feel that judge will be better than their opponent. Moreover, this defense is often applicable because the prosecution has the difficult task of proving what you were thinking at the time of the gift, offer, or promise. Without having any kind of report of you stating that you are intending that the gift, offer, or promise influence the other party’s decision, it will be very difficult for the prosecution to show that your gift, offer, or promise did not constitute a legal transaction between you and the other party.
- Value: As noted above, the first prong of a bribery charge is that you must give, offer, or promise something of value. So what is something of value? This is a difficult question to answer, and must be left to the judge or jury in your case to determine. However, as a general rule, the trier of fact (the judge, jury, etc.) will determine if the gift, offer, or promise would be considered “of value” to the average person in your (and the other party’s) position, class, level of education, etc. In other words, if the gift, offer, or promise is something that most people would think of as “having value”, then this will satisfy the ‘value’ element.
- Entrapment: Entrapment basically means that the police used undercover officers to put you in a position where just about any reasonable person would have participated in bribery. In other words, the police went too far in their investigation and attempts to show that you participated in bribery. This can be a very difficult defense to prove because it relies on showing that you would not have carried out the bribery if it weren’t for the actions of the undercover officers. This is also a difficult defense because it is contrary to the what the Judge or Jury will likely see as their own morality. Most people like to think that they have a strong moral compass and entrapment relies, first on the jury believing that they would probably have done the same thing as you if they were in your place, and second that they would have done so because of the actions of the undercover officers.
- Coercion: Coercion is a similar concept as duress. This defense relies on you showing that you only participated in the bribery because you were threatened with harm to you or a loved one. This defense is related to the intent to influence defense because it is based on the fact that your intent was to avoid the harm, not to influence the other party’s decision.
What should I do if I’ve been charged with Bribery?
As with any crime, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible so that you can discuss your circumstances and any possible defenses that may apply.