Friday, January 20th, 2006

Bribery Conviction Requires Proof that Recipient Accepted Thing of Value with Intent to Be Influenced by Bribe

United States v. Ford, Docket No. 03-1774 (2d Cir. Jan. 19, 2006) (Winter, Katzmann, Raggi): “[R]estraint must be exercised in defining the breadth of the conduct prohibited by a federal criminal statute.” Op. 14. Hallelujah — we just wish this maxim were applied more frequently in non-white collar cases.

In this case, the Circuit vacates Ford’s conviction for accepting a bribe under 18 U.S.C. § 666(a)(1)(B) — punishing those who “corruptly . . . accept . . . anything of value . . . intending to be influenced . . . .” in the performance of their duties — because the trial court’s instructions to the jury failed to properly convey the intent requirement of the statute, at least as it applies to recipients of a bribe. Specifically, the instructions “appear to have told the jury that [§ 666’s] intent requirement was fully satisfied by the recipient’s knowledge of the donor’s intent and omitted any reference to the recipient’s intent in accepting the thing of value.” Op. 13. For instance, the trial court told the jury that “if the recipient accepts anything of value with awareness that one of the purposes for which it is given is to influence her . . . , the recipient has acted with intent to be influenced.” Op. 15; see also Op. 12. This was error.

While a recipient’s knowledge “of the donor’s intent to arrange a quid-pro-quo or to seek special consideration” may constitute evidence of the requisite mens rea, the Court held, “such knowledge is insufficient, by itself, to prove the Section 666 violation.” Op. 14-15. Under the plain language of the statute, “the recipient must have accepted the thing of value while ‘intending to be influenced.’ . . . [T]here must be a quid-pro-quo.” Op. 16. It is “the recipient’s intent to make good on the bargain, not simply her awareness of the donor’s intent, that is essential to establishing guilt.” Op. 17. Because the trial court’s instructions “failed to spell out the specific state of mind requirement of a bribery charge under Section 666 — the defendant’s intent to be influenced in awarding [her union’s] business in return for a thing of value” — the Court vacated Ford’s conviction and remanded for a new trial. Op. 17.

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