Determining Bribery in a DC Criminal Investigation

Federal public corruption laws can be very broad, making it hard to determine if corruption actually occurred without a criminal investigation. Bribery laws specifically criminalize quid pro quo arrangements where a public official accepts or requests something of value in exchange for a favor, but if the elements of value or the intent of corruption are missing, it can be hard for the prosecution to build a solid case.

Criminal allegations can wreak havoc on an individual’s life, even ones that hold no validity. That is why it could be beneficial to reach out to a DC lawyer who can help you fight bribery allegations by determining if a prosecutor can prove beyond a reasonable doubt each element of the offense.

Elements of Bribery

Bribery laws prohibit a person from offering, promising, or giving something of value to a public official to induce the official to act in violation of their lawful duty. The laws apply equally to both parties of the bribe.

The three elements necessary to prove for a valid DC bribery case are:

  • The bribed individual must be a public official
  • The person accused of bribing the official must have directly or indirectly given, offered, or promised something of value to the public official
  • The briber must have a corrupt intent to induce the public official to act in violation of their lawful duty


The idea of corruption does not include interactions considered part of the public official’s normal duties or responsibilities. Public officials, including elected officials, are allowed to receive gifts or items of value, such as campaign contributions. Under federal fraud laws, the receiving of these gifts is not considered corrupt, unless there is a quid pro quo – that is, the intent of the offer must be to induce the official act against his lawful duties.

Is a Gift Considered a Bribe Under DC Law?

It is common for elected officials to receive campaign donations from constituents encouraging acting or voting in a way that favors the contributors. These actions are not considered violations under federal bribery law because the giving of campaign contributions is not considered to be corrupt.

It is also common for elected officials to engage with constituents in ways that result in receiving items of value such as plane trips or junkets, and afterwards, for those elected officials to act in ways that benefit those private individuals. These are also often not considered to be bribes under federal criminal laws.

DC federal law dictates a difference between giving, offering or promising something of value in a corrupt way versus offers or exchanges of something of value to public officials that are not corrupt.

Supreme Court Rulings

Federal bribery laws are not always clear. This became most evident when the US Supreme Court overturned the corruption conviction for former Virginia Governor, Bob McDonald, on the grounds that prosecutors were using an overly broad definition of bribery. Governor McDonald allegedly accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans, gifts, vacations, clothes, watches, and other items from a constituent in exchange of favorable official acts, including meetings, calling other public officials on behalf of the constituent, and other acts which financially favored the private individual.

The Supreme Court found that while these exchanges may have been distasteful, they did not qualify as official acts under federal public corruption laws. In this situation, the courts agreed that the items of value from the constituent to the former governor were not corruptly given in a quid pro quo arrangement for official acts that violated the governor’s lawful duties. Setting up meetings and engaging with constituents were technically part of the governor’s lawful duties, and a quid pro quo arrangement could not be proven by prosecutors.

This decision narrowed the kinds of arrangements that can be considered bribery and forced prosecutors to narrow their evidence to the kinds of exchanges that are done with the intent to get a public official to act in a certain way against their lawful duties.

Allegations of Public Corruption

DC attorneys commonly see individuals charged with federal bribery offenses in situations where private individuals offer money to employees of federal agencies in exchange for favorable regulatory treatment or private information that could give the individual an advantage in obtaining government contracts. Bribery laws can also apply to elected officials, including members of congress, who are accused of secretly receiving money, gifts or other items of value in exchange for favorable acts that would benefit the individual.

A DC Defense Attorney Could Help You Determine If Your Case Has the Elements of Bribery

A DC attorney could guide you through your federal bribery case and determine if the evidence supports the allegations against you. Challenging a prosecutor’s allegations with the assistance of an experienced lawyer can help restore your reputation. Reach out for a consultation to discuss your case today.