Accepting a bribe as a witness – whether civil or criminal – is a Class H felony in Wisconsin.  Contact Van Severen Law Office for help.

Accepting a bribe as a witness is a serious crime.  Like many crimes involving witness tampering, police, prosecutors, and courts sometimes claim that these offenses strike at the very base of the court system.  But where other criminal penalties attach to the individual doing the bribing, this charge focuses on the individual accepting the bribe.  Specifically, section 946.61(1)(b) of the Wisconsin Statutes clarifies that it’s a Class H felony for a witness in any case (criminal or civil) to accept a bribe.  Class H felonies are serious and carry the potential of 6 years in prison.  The 6 year prison term breaks down into a maximum of 3 years initial confinement followed by 3 years extended supervision.

At Van Severen Law Office, S.C., we regularly represent individuals facing serious felony charges.  Whether it’s a violent charge, a charge involving firearms, or one involving witnesses, we can help.  We offer free initial consultations to potential clients, allowing you to come in and discuss your case with one of our defense lawyers before signing a contract.  We believe that this process helps potential clients make an informed choice, rather than forcing them into representation.

To get started, contact us at (414) 270-0202.

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Section 946.61(1)(b) of the Wisconsin Statutes – Bribery of witnesses

Section 946.61 of the Wisconsin Statutes describes many different forms of bribery.  The one relevant to our conversation today is in subsection (1)(b) of the statute.  It focuses on witnesses who accept bribes.  That law says:

(1)  Whoever does any of the following is guilty of a Class H felony:

(b) Accepts any property or any pecuniary advantage, knowing that such property or pecuniary advantage was transferred to him or her or on his or her behalf with intent to induce him or her to refrain from giving evidence or testifying in any civil or criminal matter before any court, judge, grand jury, magistrate, court commissioner, referee, or administrative agency authorized by statute to determine issues of fact.

The statute makes a few things clear.  Firstly, a “bribe” includes accepting either property or pecuniary advantage.  A pecuniary advantage is something involving money.  The only requirement is that the individual accepting the bribe recognizes that the purpose of the property or money is to encourage or discourage the individual from providing testimony.  For example, individual A offers individual B a brand new Mazda3 sedan in exchange for individual B not showing up to a criminal trial.  This agreement is illegal pursuant to the statute: a car is provided to encourage B to not show up at trial and testify.  While money is typically used in bribes, any property works under the statute.

Secondly, the statute makes clear that it applies to all conceivable situations where an individual is within the legal system.  This includes both criminal and civil cases.  But beyond that, it includes matters before any court, judge, grand jury, magistrate, court commissioner, referee, or administrative agency.

Wisconsin Criminal Jury Instruction 1808B – Bribery of witnesses: accepting a bribe

Although the statute provides the law, jury instructions provide interpretations of those laws.  They’re incredibly important because they break crimes down into separate parts, called elements.  And the government must prove each of the elements beyond a reasonable doubt against the defendant.  If they cannot prove each element, they cannot convict the defendant.

There are two elements for accepting a bribe.  They are as follows:

  • Firstly, the defendant accepted property or money.
  • Secondly, the defendant knew that the transfer or property or money to him or her (or on his or her behalf) was intended to induce him or her to refrain from giving evidence or testifying before any court, judge, grand jury, magistrate, court commissioner, referee, or administrative agency authorized by statute to determine issues of fact.

Sometimes jury instructions can be as confusing as the underlying statutes, but in this case, they’ve both relatively straightforward.

Can a witness accept a bribe for services?

While the statute and jury instructions don’t mention services, they’re still arguably prohibited by the statute.  There’s a few simple reasons:

Firstly, many services also include property.  For example, let’s assume that individual A offered to fix individual B’s vehicle in exchange for B not testifying at A’s trial.  In the case of fixing a vehicle, often new parts must be installed.  In this situation, a creative prosecutor could focus on the parts, engine fluids, or any other item that was involved with the vehicle repair.

Secondly, and potentially more straightforward: services require fees.  And setting aside the fee in exchange for not testifying is providing a pecuniary advantage to the individual accepting the bribe.

It’s best practice to follow court orders and provide testimony where ordered.  Trying to work around any criminal law is asking for trouble.

Bribe money
Witnesses charged with accepting a bribe face a maximum penalty of 6 years in prison. Contact Van Severen Law Office, S.C. to speak with one of Wisconsin’s top criminal defense attorneys.

How can we win my bribery case?

Prosecutors pursue criminal charges based on testimony alone in a large number of cases.  In other words, it’s another individual’s statements that the government bases its prosecution on.  But who is that individual?  Are they the defendant in another criminal action?  Attacking the credibility of other witnesses, when the case is based on words alone, can be very important.  Early in the case, typically our criminal defense attorneys will begin exploring weaknesses in the government’s case against you.  This includes investigating credibility.

Is there any hard evidence against you?  Obviously a deposit in a bank account matching the amount and date of the bribe can be a piece of powerful evidence against the defendant.  Did the police learn of this information through a warrant or subpoena?  Is it valid?  If not, the suppression of evidence for use at trial can sometimes be achieved through filing and arguing a pre-trial motion.

Finally, it’s important to remember that defendants in criminal actions in Wisconsin have a right to trial.  At trial, your criminal defense attorney will have the opportunity to attack the government’s case in a variety of ways.  If the government cannot prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, you cannot be convicted of that offense.

Contact Van Severen Law Office, S.C. for help: (414) 270-0202

Hiring a top criminal defense attorney is incredibly important when facing any kind of criminal charge.  This is especially the case when you’re facing felonies that could send you to prison if you’re convicted.  Upon contacting Van Severen Law Office, S.C., you’ll have the opportunity to speak with one of Wisconsin’s best criminal defense lawyers.  After your free consultation, we’ll discuss your representation moving forward.

Contact us immediately at (414) 270-0202 and we’ll figure out how we can help.

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