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A Brief Primer on New Jersey's Bribery Laws


Bribery is a powerful tool in circles of power, and that means it’s a fairly common type of white collar crime. According to New Jersey law, bribery includes soliciting, accepting, or agreeing to accept any sort of personal benefit in exchange for violating or agreeing to violate any duty of fidelity you might have. As we’ll see on this blog, that can be pretty widely-inclusive. Here is a brief overview of our state’s laws that define this crime and what you can do to defend yourself from accusations.

Examples of Duty of Fidelity

Bribery is a two-fold crime in that either party in a bribery agreement can be found guilty of this crime: the person who offers to bribe someone, or the person who solicits bribery offers and agrees to accept the bribe in exchange for taking an action. J.J.S. 2C:21-10 mentions that those guilty of bribery must either violate or agree to violate their “duty of fidelity,” but what does that mean? To put it simple, a duty of fidelity means you have a duty to act in good faith, free from influence by personal interests. Some examples of a duty of fidelity can include:

  • An agent, partner, or employee of another person charged with responsibility
  • A trustee, guardian, or other fiduciary of another person’s assets
  • A lawyer, physician, accountant, or appraiser who must act honestly and in good faith for their clients or patients as well as to society
  • An arbitrator or disinterested adjudicator

All of these examples have something in common: they are expected to act in an honest and fair manner, possibly at the expense of any opportunities they may have to personally gain from their position. This may seem logical but it’s not always easy or straightforward for them to do so; you might be surprised how often people may try to bribe those in power to get out of something or around a pesky law that’s binding them.

Government Bribery

As you might expect, perhaps the most often-bribed individuals are government officials. Need to get a permit approved or have someone look the other way? You might be tempted to slip in a little something extra to the person with the power over your actions in order to gain favor with them. However, both your attempting to offer a bribe as well as their accepting your bribe could be considered a crime and warrant prosecution. Contrary to popular belief, the consideration in exchange for favor doesn’t always have to be financial either—many politicians know this and refuse to accept cash bribes because they know it’ll land them in trouble. Instead, lavish gifts, experiences, or other non-monetary remuneration is often used because it’s much harder to prove that it’s a bribe.

Proving Bribery

In order to prove that bribery existed, prosecution must show that some sort of a “quid pro quo” relationship existed between the accused briber and bribed party. In other words, the prosecution will need to show that some sort of an agreement existed between both of these parties that involved a violation of duty of fidelity in exchange for a different favor.

As you may expect, this can get complicated, but the one thing prosecutors usually look for is the bribed party doing something that they wouldn’t normally have done. For example, if a politician grants a pardon to a high-ranking organized crime syndicate member a few months after taking a lavish vacation that was funded by several different companies or organizations that are all indirectly backed by that crime syndicate, prosecutors will have more than a few red flags to review.

For starters, any politician taking a lavish vacation is usually pretty suspicious in itself. However, having the funding for the vacation come from an outside source, much less a source with criminal connections is enough to set off a few alarms. Furthermore, when the politician violates their duty of keeping their people safe by letting a known and well-connected criminal off from their punishment, it’s extremely easy to argue that the politician did something that’s well beyond what they would normally do.

If you’re facing bribery charges in a governmental, financial, or commercial setting, speak with a Bergen County criminal defense attorney today! Call the Law Offices of Joseph R. Donahue, LLC by dialing (201) 574-7919 to set up a free consultation appointment.
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