The sentence for an offence of bribery is determined according to the base offense level. The base offence level refers to the starting point for punishing an offence. The seriousness of a particular offense is determined by looking at the base offense level. A higher base offense level is given to more serious crimes. The base offence level also aims to impute higher sentences to persons who commit more harmful crimes[i].
The U.S Sentencing Guidelines Manual states the different base offence levels for the offence of bribery. The base offense level given for commercial bribery offense is eight. If the bribery is committed by a public official then the base offense level is 14. In the case of all other categories of bribery the base offense level is 12. A person can be punished for the offence of bribery only if the bribe is complete[ii]. It must also be shown that the payment was made with the intention to influence the public servant in relation to his/her position or employment[iii].
While determining the seriousness of an offence of bribery, courts will consider the value of the wrongful benefit given in return for the bribe. The sentence for the offence of bribery is determined by calculating the total amount of benefit given in exchange for the bribe. In calculating the total amount, direct costs incurred by the accused in granting the benefit is reduced from the total amount received by the accused. However, indirect costs incurred are not deducted from the total amount[iv].
If the value of the benefit received or the bribe amount exceeds $2000, then the offense level is increased. The base offence level is increased proportionally with the amount that is involved in the bribe[v]. The base offence level is increased either based on the bribe amount or on the involvement of a public official[vi].
The base offence level is increased by two levels when the offence involves multiple bribes and is committed by a public official[vii]. However, the government must prove that there was a quid pro quo. Quid pro quo means that the official received the money in return for exercising his/her official power for the benefit of the individual who offered the money[viii]. If the public official involved in the bribery is a final decision making authority or a person having responsibility of funds then the offence level for determining the sentence will be increased. Even in cases were the defendant is a payee and not payer of the bribe, the sentence of bribery will be increased if the offence of bribery involves a public official.
[i] United States v. Edwards, 496 F.3d 677 (D.C. Cir. 2007)
[ii] United States v. Wechsler, 408 F.2d 1184, 1185 (4th Cir. Va. 1969)
[iii] Spector v. State, 289 Md. 407 (Md. 1981)
[iv] United States v. Jackson, 876 F. Supp. 1208 (D. Kan. 1994)
[v] United States v. Paulus, 331 F. Supp. 2d 727 (E.D. Wis. 2004)
[vii] United States v. Patel, 1998 U.S. App. LEXIS 22150 (2d Cir. N.Y. Aug. 21, 1998)
[viii] United States v. Parlavecchio, 903 F. Supp. 788 (D.N.J. 1995)