When a defendant is facing a criminal trial, he/she may opt for unconventional means to ensure that all evidence prepared against the person becomes a non-factor during the court proceedings. Among these sources of evidence used by the prosecutor against an accused person include witness testimonies regarding the record of events. Often, witness statements serve as corroborative evidence to back up the claims presented by the prosecutor. Thus, the absence of such witness statements or the altering of the testimonies may work to the defendant's advantage and prevent the prosecutor from making a persuasive argument against you.
However, involvement in attempts to bribe a witness in pursuit of changing testimonies or preventing the prosecutor from accessing statements is a serious crime that attracts significant penalties. Facing charges of witness bribery may attract adverse legal effects that include a significant jail sentence. Therefore, you need an experienced criminal attorney who will help you disclaim the charges and prevent you from facing conviction. At the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, you will receive excellent legal services and guidance related to the crime of bribing witnesses. Our lawyers are conversant with California statutory law and have helped numerous clients who faced the same charges. We do our best to ensure you receive professional and personalized legal assistance to receive the best court trial outcome for your case.
The Definition of Bribery of Witnesses
The act of bribing a witness involves the use of enticement to get the witness to act in your favor. In this case, the enticement you offer may include money or any other valuable thing as well as a promise to repay the witness for his or her actions in the future. Thus, bribing the witness enables him/her to change testimony or fail to show up for a trial, in exchange for the monetary benefit or another promise you make to the witness.
Under the California Penal Code, there are several motives for the bribery you engage in, aall of which try to alter the witness' evidence by altering his/her statements or by failing to appear in court. Section 137(a) exclusively deals with the elements of crime present when a person bribes a witness to the case to change the witness's testimony. Secondly, section 138(a) gives provisions for the specific bribery of a witness to prevent him/her from attending a court trial session. You may engage in such an action to reduce the sources of evidence used by the prosecutor so that you can gain leverage against the allegations presented against you. Lastly, section 138(b) covers the type of bribery whereby a witness is proactive in the unlawful exchange and offers to receive a bribe from you. While the line of action may not begin from your actions, your indulgence in bringing the witness will still amount to the offense of bribery of witnesses, and will still attract charges.
Elements of the Crime That the Prosecutor Must Prove
It is necessary to keep in mind that the burden of proof to show that you are guilty of the criminal accusations falls on the prosecutor for any criminal case. Thus, he/she must work to demonstrate each element of the crime of bribing a witness beyond reasonable doubt for the allegations to warrant your criminal conviction. The details of the crime that a prosecutor must prove will depend on the category that your actions fall in. However, all three types of bribery have similar crime elements that only diverge at the point of criminal intention. Below are the three types of bribery you may be involved in, and their elements.
Bribery to Alter a Testimony
Engaging in bringing a witness to try and change his/her testimony against you is a crime, as stated in section 137(a) of the Penal Code. The circumstances surrounding your case, or the confessions of the witness in question will guide the prosecutor as he/she decides on the specific charges to enter against you.
When you decide to bribe a witness to lure him/her into changing a testimony, the prosecutor will have to prove that:
You Made an Offer to the Witness
One of the main elements of the crime that the prosecution team must demonstrate is that you initiated contact by making an offer to the witness. In this case, the offer must include an express request for the favor in exchange for an incentive. Therefore, the prosecutor will be keen to identify the subject matter of your offer to the witness, to ensure that the evidence presented in court captures the statements you made to introduce the idea of bribery to the witness. To do this, the prosecutor will rely on evidence that gives a clear indication of you as the defendant offering a bribe to a witness. Thus, if there is any available audio or video evidence that captures your words, the prosecutor will introduce it in court as evidence of your actions to offer a witness several options in corrupting his/her testimony against you.
Additionally, the prosecutor will also rely on any confessions that the witness makes whereby he/she mentions your offer while coming clean to the authorities. Most times, even though there may be no credible way to verify the witness's confessions, the statements will help the prosecutor significantly, mainly because you are already involved in a previous crime that you were trying to cover up for by bribing the witness.
You Offered a Valuable Exchange
Moreover, the prosecutor needs to prove that you offered a significant gift or payment to the witness that was enticing enough to persuade him/her into giving in to your offer. As a result, the prosecutor needs to show that you were willing to give the witness a satisfactory sum of money, an expensive gift, or even future favors to the witness to get him/her to change the witness testimony in court. The prosecutor needs to show that the exchange involved a valuable item or promise, mainly because the prosecution will try to prove that the exchange was what pushed the witness into accepting the offer and changing his/her testimony.
Consequently, it is not uncommon for the prosecutor to dig into your recent bank transaction records to try and trace any transfer of money into the witness's account as the means of bribery. Also, the prosecutor may request for any cheques made out to the witness in question. These include cheques that have not yet matured for the withdrawal of funds. The point of checking into such banking documents is to show that the transaction was already underway, and it was just a matter of time before the witness could access the monetary incentive.
Additionally, there may be more persuasive evidence like surveillance footage that shows you delivering money or an expensive item to the witness wherever you decided to meet for the transaction. While there may be a need to contextualize the footage in court, the prosecutor may have a relatively easy time proving that your meetup was in regard to bribery, mainly because of the unusual circumstances that would lead to a defendant or the defendant's agent meeting with a prosecution witness.
You Had an Unlawful Intention to Corrupt the Testimony Evidence
The main reason why you may decide to engage in bribing a witness is that you may need to reduce the evidence load stacked against you. Consequently, your intention of bribing a witness would be to corrupt evidence in the form of a testimony. In court, the prosecutor must show that you were aware of the circumstances of your case and had enough knowledge to know who to go after and try to bribe. In doing so, the prosecution team will produce all documents presented in the discovery stage of your previous hearing to show that you knew the amount of evidence that you would face and potentially knew who was to appear as a witness to your case.
Another way to prove your criminal intention is to analyze the instructions you gave to the witness you bribed. Often, when the witness confesses about the actions he/she was to undertake after accepting a bribe, the confession may include the exclusive instructions you gave to the person, including the record of events that he/she was to omit or lie about when giving the testimony. Alternatively, any concrete evidence like audio or video recordings will quickly reveal your intention to corrupt the witness's testimony in court.
Lastly, you may opt to change the information that the witness gives to the prosecutor directly or an officer even though it does not amount to testimony in court. Nevertheless, such an action will amount to the offense of bribery of a witness, primarily because the information is often pivotal in helping the prosecutor build a case against you. Subsequently, if your actions are revealed, the prosecutor will enter the same charges available for trying to influence the witness's testimony.
Bribery to Prevent a Witness from Attending a Court Trial Session
In this case, the elements of the crime are similar to those listed above for the offense of bribing a witness to change his or her testimony. However, in this case, your criminal intention will be to ensure that the witness you bribe does not show up during the day of trial when he/she was supposed to give a testimony. Alternatively, you may bribe the witness to influence him/her into arriving exceptionally late to the proceedings such that the prosecutor does not have a chance to call him/her to the stand to give a testimony.
He may go through previous agreements you made on the phone with the witness in question for the prosecutor to prove that you possessed the criminal intention to deter the witness's attendance. Thus, it is likely that the prosecutor will obtain court orders to scrutinize your contacts with other people. Your emails, text messages, and call logs may provide the prosecutor with beneficial information to prove that you advised the witness not to show up in court on an agreed date.
Moreover, the prosecutor strongly relies on witness confessions, footage evidence and audio sources of evidence to prove that you had direct involvement in ensuring that the witness did not attend a court session to avoid providing his/her testimony.
Engaging With a Witness Who Offers to Receive a Bribe
In this case, the prosecutor will need to prove that despite the witness availing himself/herself in accepting a bribe, you made no effort to refuse it and proceeded to offer the bribe. Additionally, the prosecutor may also decide to prove that you prompted the witness to accept the bribe using subtle actions that insinuated the offering of valuable items in exchange for changing testimony or failing to show up in court. However, such a line of argument is not smooth for a prosecutor to prove. It involves shifting the blame from the witness to you, even though there is enough information to prove that you did not initiate the bribery directly. Thus, your criminal lawyer may offer several defenses and counter-arguments to disprove the prosecutor's claims.
Generally, the prosecutor's duty is not always straightforward, mainly because building up the evidence to form a coherent argument requires tremendous attention to detail. Thus, if your criminal defense lawyer is aware of important details regarding your case that could be persuasive enough in challenging the prosecution, he/she will introduce them during the trial.
Defenses to the Crime of Bribery of Witnesses
As a defendant, your criminal attorney may offer several defenses for the crime committed if they align well with the circumstances surrounding your actions. We advise you to engage with your defense lawyer and disclose all facts that you remember to ensure that your defenses are persuasive enough to defeat the prosecutor's arguments. Some of the possible defenses for the offense are:
You Were Intoxicated When Bribing the Witness
Sometimes, too much pressure regarding a criminal case may cause you to seek a quick relief, including indulgence in alcohol consumption. Subsequently, you may engage in specific actions after getting drunk when trying to remedy the problems you may face in court. Among those options may be to bribe a key witness in your case to prevent the availability of evidence against you in court. However, since you engaged in bribery when drunk, your unlawful actions may be ruled out as irrelevant, mainly because you were not in the right state of mind when engaging the witness.
While the defense of intoxication is admissible in court, you must satisfy several legal requirements provided for intoxication, to remove the factor of criminal intention in your actions. Firstly, you must have been so drunk that you did not know what you were doing. In such a case, the prosecutor can not hold you responsible for your choices, mainly because your level of intoxication would be so high that it would amount to temporary insanity. However, it may be difficult to prove the level of drunkenness you were operating on unless your defense lawyer relies on precise details. For example, the number of drinks you had, or any medical records you may have that show you have a low alcohol tolerance are useful to include in the defense.
Alternatively, you have to prove that you were so drunk that you did not know what you were doing was wrong. Similar to the first instance, your level of intoxication should be extremely high such that your deciphering of reality is significantly impaired. Consequently, you cannot tell right from wrong, leading you to bribe the witness as you see fit in the moment.
You Worked Under Coercion
Often, bribery cases involve a third party working for the main party to the case, mainly because the main party is aware of impending legal repercussions if he/she is caught bribing a witness. Therefore, if someone coerced you using threats, force, or violence to undertake the unlawful bribing of a witness on his/her behalf, you can introduce the defense in your favor. However, in doing so, you should be ready to name the perpetrator of your actions so the prosecution can drop the charges against you.
You Worked Under Illegal Entrapment
A police officer or an agent working with the police may lure you into the crime of bribing a witness while trying to gather evidence against you. Typically, an entrapment may involve the officer or an agent exerting undue pressure on you to act as they direct; in this case, to bribe someone who poses as a witness. The pressure may include persuasive statements that what you are doing is legal. Moreover, you may raise the defense of entrapment if the officer or agent harasses you into bribing a third party posing as a witness for them to acquire evidence of the crime against you.
The defense of entrapment is acceptable in court even after pleading not guilty, mainly because you were not acting out of a deliberate intention but under harassment, luring, or extreme pressure from the officers who entrap you. However, you should note that the defense is inadmissible if the circumstances of your case involved multiple reassurances from the officers that you are not walking into a setup. You cannot claim that you worked under entrapment merely because the police were undercover since the officer worked under valid orders not to disclose his/her professional identity.
Penalties for Bribing Witnesses
The offense of bribing a witness is a serious crime under California law. Thus, you will face felony charges for the offense, warranting up to four years in jail. However, the judge may apply discretion to reduce the jail sentence, depending on the circumstances of your case, as well as the persuasive nature of your evidence.
Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
When trying to look out for yourself, you may engage in unlawful options that attract severe legal repercussions. Moreover, you may face unfair accusations for a crime that you did not intend to commit by working under coercion or entrapment. Regardless of your case circumstances, you will need a competent defense attorney to secure an acquittal of bribery charges in your case. At the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, you will receive the best criminal defenses for the current charges you face, along with moral support through the litigation process. We endeavor to guide you through combating charges of bribery of witnesses and assure you of a stress-free trial process. Call us today at 424-333-0943.