What is Bribery in Virginia?
Generally, a bribe in Virginia occurs when the bribe-giver intends to influence the bribe-taker’s conduct by giving, offering, or promising a thing of value to the bribe-taker, who accepts or solicits the thing of value with the agreement or understanding that he or she will act in a particular way because of it. Virginia has multiple statutes that address bribery involving different bribe-givers and bribe-takers. Most often, both bribe-givers and bribe-takers can be punished.
What are the different kinds of bribery cases?
Bribery of Officers and Candidates for Office: Va. Code 18.2-438 and 18.2-439
Va. Code 18.2-438:
Section 18.2-438 focuses on bribe-givers, making it a Class 4 felony for any person to offer or promise any gift or gratuity to a government officer or candidate for office, or a sheriff or police officer or candidate for such office, in order to influence the officer or candidate’s act in an official capacity regarding any, vote, decision, opinion or judgment on any matter.
Va. Code 18.2-439:
Section 18.2-439 addresses bribe-takers, making it a Class 4 felony for a government officer or candidate for office, or a sheriff or police officer or candidate for such office, to accept any gift, gratuity, or promise of a gift, gratuity or beneficial act with the understanding or agreement that the officer, in an official capacity, will give a particular vote, opinion, or judgment, nomination, appointment, or take or fail to take any particular action or perform any duty required by law. A person convicted under this section will also be prohibited from holding public office in the future.
Bribery of Public Servants and Party Officials, Va. Code, Art. 3, § 18.2-447
Public servants in this context include any officer or employee of the Commonwealth or any of its political subdivisions—including judges and jurors—who are performing any governmental function.
Section 18.2-447 of Art. 3 makes it a crime for any person to offer, confer, or agree to confer upon another (a) anything that has economic gain as its primary significance (e.g., money, property) in order to influence the recipient’s opinion, decision, or vote, or other exercise of discretion as a public servant or party official; or, (b) any benefit in order to influence the recipient’s opinion, decision, or vote, etc. in a judicial or administrative proceeding or the recipient’s violation of a known legal duty as a public servant or party official.
This same section also punishes bribe-takers who accept, agree to accept, or solicit, a bribe in each of the above scenarios. Both bribe-takers and bribe-givers convicted under this statute are guilty of a Class 4 felony. Any public servant who is convicted until 18.2-447 may not subsequently hold any public office in the Commonwealth.
Notably, it is not a defense under this section for a bribe-giver to show that in the end the bribe-taker was not qualified to perform the act the bribe-giver sought in return for the bribe. Va. Code. § 18.2-448.
Virginia Code § 18.2-445 in Article 2, and Virginia Code § 18.2-450 in Article 3 provide that when a witness is forced to testify for the prosecution in a bribery trial, that witness has immunity from prosecution for any alleged bribery by the witness at the time and place indicated in the prosecution. A witness who has such immunity and refuses to testify may be punished for contempt.
Other Bribery Statutes
The following statutes prohibit bribes involving persons who hold certain positions and are trusted to perform certain duties. The list below is not intended to be exhaustive of all Virginia statutes that concern bribery.
- Process Servers
Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-440 makes it a Class 2 misdemeanor to bribe authorized officers to prevent or delay service of process, or any official duty. There is no similar statute that punishes the bribe giver in this case.
- Commissioners, Jurors, etc.
Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-441 makes it a Class 4 felony for: (1) a person to bribe any commissioner appointed by a court, auditor, arbitrator, umpire or juror, and (2) for any of those people to take a bribe.
Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-441.1 makes it a Class 6 felony to bribe a witness so that he or she will not testify or testify falsely in any civil or criminal proceeding. There is no similar statute that punishes the bribe-taker in this case.
- Sports Participants and Coaches, etc.
Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-442 makes it a Class 5 felony to bribe any professional or amateur participant or prospective participant in any sport or contest.
Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-443 makes it a Class 5 felony for any professional or amateur participant or prospective participant in any sport, or any manager, coach or trainer to accept or solicit a bribe. Interestingly, referees, umpires, and other game officials are not named in this statute.
- Commercial Bribery
Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-444 criminalizes commercial bribery—both bribe-makers and bribe-takers. This section prohibits bribing an employee or agent, without the knowledge of the employer or principal, to act in a way prejudicial to the business. It also prohibits agents from taking or soliciting a bribe with the understanding that the agent will act in a particular way relative to the business, without the knowledge of the principal. Note that in this latter case, the act by the bribe-take need not be prejudicial to the business.
This section also punishes bribes in the form of commissions, discounts and bonuses.
Any violation of this section is a Class 3 misdemeanor.
- Financial Institutions
Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-444.2 makes it a Class 6 felony for anyone to give, or for someone associated with a financial institution to accept, a bribe for with the intention of influencing a decision of the financial institution.
Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-445 makes it a Class 6 felony for anyone to give, or for someone associated with a financial institution to accept, a bribe for with the intention of influencing a decision of the financial institution.
- Telephone Numbers
Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-166 makes it a Class 3 misdemeanor for a telephone company employee—or employee of a company that handles phone lists—to disclose, without the consent of the company, the names, addresses, or telephone numbers of any two or more customers. Notice the employee in this case need not be bribed to disclose in order to be guilty. But any person who bribes an employee to get such information is also guilty. This statute also explicitly applies to anyone who attempts, or aids or conspires with another to commit such an act.
Among many Virginia statutes concerning voting, several specifically address bribery in voting: § 24.2-1000, § 24.2-1005, and § 24.2-1007.
Under these statutes, any person who, through bribery (or by threats or other means in violation of election laws): (1) willfully hinders or attempts to hinder election officers from holding an election is guilty of a Class 5 felony; or (2) attempts to influence another’s vote or ballot is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. Further, any person who solicits or accepts a bribe to influence his or another’s vote is also guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor
Should you hire an attorney for your bribery charge?
A bribery conviction requires proof of several difference elements, including, the required mental state and a benefit or thing of value offered or given. An attorney can help assess the evidence against you. Also, an attorney can evaluate whether you might be able to request immunity if your testimony may help the prosecution in a trial against someone else involved in the bribe.