Bribery of Witnesses in Criminal Proceedings

Bribery of Witnesses in Criminal ProceedingsIn criminal proceedings, witnesses are important to a case as they can present evidence to the court, some of which can be very important facts like material information. Witnesses are to swear or affirm to be under oath, meaning that they will only present the truth while on stand. Setting aside the issue of perjury itself, it would be a very serious crime to bribe the witness(es). A bribe could be made to target various aspects of being a witness. The California Penal Code has codified the crimes of bribing a witness because of their appearance in court and testimony.  

In California, Penal Code Sections 137 and 138 address bribery, and define it generally as the exchange of something of value (and/or money) so that the witness either falsely amends their testimony or does not go to court to deliver said testimony. First, section 137 concerns the testimony of witnesses. It describes that there must be proof of the accused having given, offered, or promised something of value in order to persuade the witness to corruptly change his/her testimony.

Moreover, Penal Code section 138(a) deals with the attendance of witnesses in court. Under PC 138(a), a prosecutor must prove (similar to 137) that the accused “gives or offers or promises” to a witness something of value such that the witness does not attend any trial or judicial proceeding. Furthermore, the accused could have also used force, threats, or fraud to ‘persuade’ the witness’s chance of attendance. Important to note, both sections require the accused to have had corrupt intent.

Both crimes under Penal Code sections 137 and 138 are classified as felonies. Therefore, committing either crime is a serious offense. Penalties for a felony crime are severe and can include serving multiple years in a California state prison. Therefore, if someone is falsely accused of having bribed a witness, or if a witness is falsely accused of having accepted a bribe, it is imperative that they seek the advice of an experienced criminal attorney.