Article 200 of the New York state Penal Law contains most of the criminal charges potentially applicable to bribes involving public officials. The charges in this chapter are generally quite serious, as most of them are classified as felonies (meaning that they are potentially punishable by more than a year in prison). (Note: Federal charges can also be brought in these sorts of cases, and often are, but this post will only address New York state law on the subject.)
The most frequently charged crime in this chapter is unquestionably Bribery in the Third Degree (Penal Law Section 200.00), a Class D non-violent felony. This charge makes it a crime to confer, offer, or agree to confer any benefit upon a public servant upon an agreement or understanding that such public servant’s vote, opinion, judgment, action, decision or exercise of discretion as a public servant will thereby be influenced. The classic case involves somebody who gets arrested and then offers a police officer money to be released. Typically, a person makes an offer to the police officer, and the police officer – in an effort to get the offer on tape – asks the person to make the offer again after the police officer has equipped himself with a hidden sound recording device.
These types of offenses can be more serious, too. For example, Bribery in the Second Degree (Penal Law Section 200.03) makes it a Class C felony to offer the public official more than $10,000, and Bribery in the First Degree (Penal Law Section 200.04) makes it a Class B felony to attempt to influence a public official with respect to the “investigation, arrest, detention, prosecution or incarceration of any person for the commission or alleged commission of a class A felony…. or an attempt to commit a class A felony.”
(Note: there is fortunately a defense codified in Penal Law Section 200.05 that allows an accused person to be found not guilty if they can demonstrate that the public official that they bribed had extorted or coerced them into making the bribe.)
Of course, the public official can also be convicted of mirror-image crimes for accepting the bribes described above. Bribe Receiving in the Third Degree (Penal Law Section 200.10), Bribe Receiving in the Second Degree (Penal Law Sectio 200.11), and Bribe Receiving in the First Degree (Penal Law Section 200.12) are also all Class D, C, and B felonies, respectively, just like their equivalent Bribery charges.
In addition to inducing a public servant to exercise their discretion in a favorable way, it is also criminal to persuade a public official to violate his or her duty with a benefit or bribe. Penal Law Section 200.20 makes it a Class E felony to knowingly confer or offer or agree to confer any benefit upon a public servant for having violated his duty as a public servant (Rewarding official misconduct in the second degree). This crime becomes a Class C felony if the public servant is being influenced to violate his duty with respect to the prosecution, arrest, detention, incarceration or investigation of a person who has committed or who is alleged to have committed a Class A felony (such as homicide, conspiracy, or large-scale drug trafficking) (see Penal Law Section 200.22: Rewarding official misconduct in the first degree). A public official is equally guilty for receiving the bribe or benefit under these circumstances, too (see Penal Law Section 200.25 [Receiving reward for official misconduct in the second degree] and Penal Law Section 200.27 [Receiving reward for official misconduct in the first degree]).
It is also a crime to pay a public official for doing something that he would have done anyway. Specifically, it is a class A misdemeanor to knowingly confer, offer or agree to confer, any benefit upon a public servant for having engaged in official conduct which he was required or authorized to perform, and for which he was not entitled to any special additional compensation. (Penal Law Section 200.30: Giving unlawful gratuities). It is also a class A misdemeanor to receive a benefit under the same circumstances, as well. (Penal Law Section 200.35: Receiving unlawful gratuities).
It is also improper to bribe a public servant or party officer in order to get a job. In particular, Penal Law Section 200.45 makes it illegal for a person to “confer, or offer or agree to confer any money or other property upon a public servant or party officer upon an agreement or understanding that some person will or may be appointed to a public office or designated or nominated as a candidate for public office.” The converse of this Class D felony is also illegal: Penal Law Section 200.50 makes it a Class D felony to receive a bribe for public office under the same arrangement described above.
If you or a loved one have been involved in a bribery matter of any kind, you should not hesitate to contact experienced attorneys who deal with bribery matters.