If you have wealthy or powerful friends, you probably like to give them gifts or take them out to expensive meals as a gesture of friendship. However, sometimes individuals have self-seeking motives behind money or gifts if they give them to public officials. They are hoping to secure something in return. These actions can constitute a federal crime known as bribery.
According to the Cornell Law School, bribery happens when someone offers, solicits, gives or receives anything of value as a way to influence a person who has obligations as a public official or someone who carries out legal duties. Since a conviction for bribery can result in federal prison time, you should understand what constitutes bribery in the eyes of the law.
Defining a quid pro quo relationship
To prove you have bribed someone, federal prosecutors must show that you intended to influence the actions of a powerful person in exchange for your money or other item of value. This kind of relationship constitutes a “quid pro quo.” This phrase is Latin for “something for something.”
It is important to establish a direct relationship in order to build a credible case for bribery. If the relationship was too indirect, a prosecutor will likely have a weak case against you. A common example is giving money to political candidates. This does not constitute bribery because the money does not establish a direct relationship to change a public official’s behavior.
Quid pro quos are not always bribery
While establishing a quid pro quo relationship is crucial to proving that bribery has taken place, keep in mind that not every quid pro quo is illegal. Exchanging money for services or goods is a legitimate part of many commercial transactions. So a prosecutor must establish that the exchange you made was for illegal purposes.
Exercising caution about what you give powerful friends can be a wise move to help you avoid the appearance of impropriety. Still, if the government suspects you of a serious federal crime, remember that you have rights under the Constitution and may mount a legal defense according to the circumstances of your case.