What Is Bribery? - Definition, Laws & Examples

Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

Learn what constitutes bribery. Examine laws of bribery and analyze several examples. Once you read the lesson, you should have a thorough understanding of bribery.


Have you ever seen a movie where a sports game was rigged? Or maybe you've even been asked by a teammate or a friend to throw a game in exchange for cash? These situations are similar to bribery.

Bribery occurs when a person offers something of value to another person in order to receive something in exchange. For instance, your mom might bribe you into coming home for the holidays by offering to cook your favorite food. The food is what she is offering, and your attendance is the exchange.

However, bribery can also be illegal, especially when it involves a gift bestowed on a public official for particular services or actions. The bribe could be for a favor, influence, favorable treatment and more, and it could be offered to a governmental figure, such as a mayor or other politician, a police officer, a sports figure, a businessman or anyone who has the power to accept a bribe and perform the requested service.

Frequently, bribery is found in the governmental arena. Bribes are typically made in order to obtain a certain decision, such as a zoning determination by a local zoning board. Other types of favoritism may be sought, such as bribery for the award of a construction contract for a government building.


Every state in the United States has laws which apply to bribery. Each state has different and unique laws, so it's important to check the laws of the state where you reside. Nevertheless, most state laws emphasize that both the individual who makes the bribe and the individual who accepts the bribe may be guilty of bribery. The laws of every state do not distinguish between either party.

Furthermore, most states make bribery a felony crime. Felony crimes are serious crimes which carry a substantial prison term and possible fines. Typically, felony crimes include more than three years of prison and fines of more than $2,000.00.

In addition, the federal law also makes bribery illegal. Under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, any citizen of the United States or foreign issuers of securities are guilty of bribery if they pay a foreign officer or organization in order to gain business.

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