An illegal gratuity is defined under 18 U.S.C. § 201 as the giving of a gift in response to an action or decision by a public official. Bribery is the agreement to give something of value in exchange for an official taking an action, making a decision, or other performance in their official duties.
An illegal gratuity takes place after the fact. It is giving a public official a gratuity or gift after an official act was performed. That is illegal as well and is in the same category as bribery. Illegal gratuity is a crime under the federal law because of the influence that the giving of gifts to public officials can have on the performance of their official duties. If an individual has been charged with an illegal gratuity offense or wants to know more about illegal gratuity and bribery in DC, they should consult a qualified bribery attorney that could answer their questions.
Intent is a crucial element of bribery. The prosecutor must prove that an individual gave something of value to a public official with the intent that the public official would take an action or inaction in their official duties. With an illegal gratuity, the government need not prove there was intent to influence some act because illegal gratuity happens after the fact. It takes place after the action so that the government need not prove that intent to influence.
Under the D.C. Code, a public servant is any officer, employee, or person authorized to act for the District of Columbia government. This includes an elected official, a person nominated to become an official, or a person appointed to be a public servant, or a juror.
A public official does not necessarily have to be in the federal government to face federal charges. Depending on the conduct, individuals can be charged in federal court. There must be a violation of federal law, but it does not necessarily have to be carried out by a federal official. If a public official is involved in the violation of federal law, that person can face federal charges whether they are an official in federal government or otherwise. A DC state official can face federal charges depending on the conduct in question. For example, if the charges concern illegal gratuity and bribery in DC, an individual could find themselves facing federal charges.
A gift is given after an action is taken or after a decision is made. A bribe occurs beforehand to influence the action or decision. It is hard to distinguish in practice. If the government lacks the evidence and proof of an agreement ahead of the action or decision to make that action by the public official and they only have evidence that something of value was given to the public official after the fact, they may not be able to prove a bribe took place. They may have to proceed with an illegal gratuity, which is a gift to a public official after the fact.
The difference in punishment between illegal gratuity and bribery in DC can be drastic. Under federal law, a bribery conviction carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison or a maximum fine of up to $250,000 or triples the value of the bribe itself when the amount exceeds $250,000 which is usually 10 times the fine under the D.C. Code for the superior court. With an illegal gratuity, the prison sentence is a maximum is two years. The maximum fine is also $250,000. While it is a high fine, the penalty is less than the sentence for a bribe. When the government can prove the bribe, they attempt to do so, because it is considered a much more heinous conduct.
The line between a gift and a bribe can be blurred depending on the understanding and intent between the parties. There can be a situation where a public official takes an action or makes a decision with an expectation that they will receive something of value for doing so. However, the other party may not realize or may not know that the official has that expectation. If the other party is pleased with the decision or action and gives a gift, that is still unlawful and is an illegal gratuity. In that situation, it is not a bribe. The person who gave the gift did not have an agreement ahead of time. The gift was given in appreciation for an action the official made.
The official may have had that expectation, and that is where the specific intent of both sides of that transaction comes into play. It can be difficult to discern motives and the government must do so when they put their evidence together to prosecute the case. When someone intends to influence a public official’s action or decision-based on giving them something of value; that is a bribe. If their intent is to influence and that is known to the public official, that is definitely a bribe as opposed to a gift after the fact. If an individual wants to know more, they should consult an attorney experienced in dealing with illegal gratuity and bribery in DC. A seasoned bribery lawyer could advocate for an individual and answer any questions they may have.
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