Minnesota Governor Tim Walz recently began handing out promotional coins bearing his name, autograph, and symbols of Minnesota. These are known as challenge coins. They are also carried by members of Congress, governors, and presidents.
But wouldn’t handing out money to constituents be considered bribery? When it comes to the Governer’s coins, legally speaking, no.
Why not? Because the coins have no monetary value and cost less than $4/each to produce.
Under Minnesota bribery laws, politicians are allowed to give gifts that have a nominal value, such as Walz’s coins or items such as parade candy.
So, what does constitute bribery in this state? Below, we take a look at the different types of bribery charges in Minnesota, and the penalties you could face if convicted.
Three Types of Bribery Crimes in Minnesota
Bribery is a unique crime in that it encompasses an enormous variety of acts, and thus has a very wide scope. In Minnesota, there are three broadly defined acts that constitute bribery: general bribery, commercial bribery and bribery related to a contest.
General bribery occurs when the defendant offers, gives or promises to give any benefit, reward, or thing of value or consideration in order to influence the actions of another. Should the other party accept the bribe, or request it, he or she is also guilty of bribery.
The general bribery statute covers three specific acts:
- The recipient is a public servant, and the bribe is directly or indirectly related to the recipient’s duties or authorities
- The recipient is or will be a witness in a hearing, and the bribe is offered in relation to the recipient’s testimony
- The recipient holds information related to the prosecution or investigation of a crime, and the bribe is in relation to withholding this information from the prosecution or investigators. This is particularly common in the prosecution or investigation of white-collar crimes.
General bribery carries severe sentencing and penalties that can include up to a decade in prison and $20,000 in fines.
Additionally, when an offender is a government employee, he or she will lose the job and be barred from ever holding a public office or working for the government
The exact penalty will depend on the amount of the bribe and other aggravating and mitigating factors surrounding the offense.
Commercial bribery is similar to general bribery, but the context is within a private business. In commercial bribery, the person offering the bribe typically does so with the intent to influence that party’s performance. Accepting such an offer is also considered commercial bribery.
Specific acts of commercial bribery include:
- Kickbacks to gain or retain business or referrals
- Attempting to influence the decision making of an employee or agent
- Requesting a bribe from one’s employer or superior
- Attempting to bribe a coworker or superior not to report instances of employee misconduct, such as employee theft
The punishment for commercial bribery depends on the value of the bribe in question, and can be either a felony or a misdemeanor:
- Under $500: 90 days in prison and a fine up to $1,000
- Over $500: Five years in prison and a fine up to $10,000
Bribery of a Participant or Official of a Contest
This bribery crime applies only to the sports and entertainment industries. It also occurs when the defendant offers up a bribe, but with the unique intent to influence the person’s effort to win, or decisions in the capacity as an official.
The most common examples of this kind of bribery include:
- Bribing a player to underperform or lose a game, typically for the purpose of gambling
- Bribing a judge or official to give special consideration to a contestant
- Bribing an official to overlook a rule violation on the part of a contestant
- Accepting any of the above bribes
This form of bribery could land an offender five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000. The exact penalty, again, depends on the value of the bribe, and the aggravating and mitigating circumstances surrounding the offense in question.
Additionally, failure to report any attempts to bribe or offers to be bribed is a chargeable offense, too. It is a gross misdemeanor, carrying up to one year in jail and/or a maximum $3,000 fine.
Suspected bribery should be reported to the government, an official, or an employee.
Defending Yourself Against Minnesota Bribery Charges
Clearly, bribery charges are quite serious and can be met with serious criminal consequences if you’re convicted. Fortunately, there are a number of defense strategies that could be used to help your case.
An expert criminal defense attorney will tailor your defense around the specifics of your case, but the most common defense components for bribery include:
- Insufficient evidence to prove all of the elements of bribery
All told, bribery is a complex crime due to its scope and we’ve only briefly touched on high points. Expert criminal defense is what it takes to navigate what will inevitably be a complex case.
About the Author:
Christopher Keyser is a Minneapolis-based criminal and DWI defense attorney known for fighting aggressively for his clients and utilizing innovative tactics to get the most positive results. He has been featured in numerous media outlets due to the breadth and depth of his knowledge, and recognized as a Minnesota Super Lawyers Rising Star (2014–2015), a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013–2015), and a Top 40 Under 40 Attorney (2013–2015).