Offenses Involving Public Servants
A public servant is a governmental officer, employee, or agent, a juror or a grand juror, an arbitrator or a referee, an attorney or a notary public, a political party official or a political candidate, or anyone who is performing a governmental function. A person is a public servant even if he or she has only been elected to office and has not assumed the duties of his or her office.
A public servant commits a criminal offense when he or she accepts an honorarium or a fee in exchange for the public servant’s exercise of his or her official discretion. Although the public servant may accept transportation, lodging, and meals when he or she is speaking or providing services at a conference or a meeting, the public servant may not accept any expenses or fees that are not connected with the conference or meeting.
A public servant commits a criminal offense when he or she accepts a gift in exchange for the exercise of his or her official discretion. Certain public servants are not allowed to accept any type of gift, even if the gift is not being given in exchange for the exercise of the public servant’s official discretion. These types of public servants include persons who perform regulatory functions, who conduct investigations or inspections, who have custody of prisoners, who engage in litigation on behalf of a governmental entity, who award contracts and claims, who render judicial or administrative decisions, or who are members of a state legislature.
A public servant who receives an unauthorized gift may donate the gift to a governmental entity or to a charitable organization.
A public servant may receive a gift if the gift was a professional fee in exchange for the public servant’s services other than as a public servant, if the gift was given as a result of a personal, professional, or business relationship, if the gift was a qualified political contribution, or if the gift had a minimal value. Most states have enacted statutes that set forth the minimum amount that may be accepted by the public servant as a gift.
A person commits the offense of coercion of a public servant or a voter if he or she influences or attempts to influence a public servant with regard to the public servant’s official duties or influences or attempts to influence a voter with regard to his or her vote. Coercion is the same as a threat. If the person threatens the public servant or the voter with an accusation, with an offense, with bodily injury, or with public ridicule, the person is guilty of the offense of coercion.
A person also commits the offense of improper influence if he or she privately communicates with a judicial or an administrative officer in order to influence the judicial or the administrative officer with regard to his or decision in an adjudication. An adjudication is a determination of the legal rights and duties of parties to a judicial or an administrative proceeding.
The offenses of accepting an honorarium, receiving a gift, coercing a public servant or voter, or improperly influencing a judicial or an administrative officer are normally classified as misdemeanors. The offense of coercing a public servant or a voter may be classified as a felony if a person threatens the public servant or the voter with a felony.
Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.