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Thursday, June 27, 2024

Supreme Court Issues Ruling in Mayor's Appeal of his Bribery Conviction

The U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion interpreting the federal statute that prohibits state and local government officials from accepting bribes in Snyder v. United States

Section 666 of Title 18 (a federal law) makes it a crime for state and local officials to "corruptly" solicit, accept, or agree to accept "anything of value from any person, intending to be influenced or rewarded" for an official act. A conviction under this federal law is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment.

A mayor of an Indiana city was charged under this anti-corruption federal law for accepting a $13,000 payment from a trucking company after the company had been awarded $1 million in contracts from the city. Ultimately, the mayor was convicted under this federal law and sentenced to 1 year, 9 months in prison. His conviction was upheld by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and he ultimately appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the lower court rulings, holding that Section 666 of federal law criminalizes bribes, not gratuities. The Supreme Court distinguished between the two, finding that a conviction under Section 666 requires the government to show that the state or local official had a corrupt state of mind and accepted or agreed to accept a payment intending to be influenced in an official act. A gratuity, the Supreme Court said, is given as a token of appreciation after the official act. Here, the Court found that the mayor's acceptance of the $13,000 payment after the contract was awarded to the trucking company qualified as a gratuity, and not a bribe, so Section 666 did not apply. 

The Supreme Court made it clear that although a gratuity or reward offered and accepted by a state or local official after the official act does not violate this particular federal law (section 666), that conduct could be unethical or illegal under other federal, state, or local laws. 

The case included a dissenting opinion, in which three Justices argued that Section 666's use of the word "rewarded" meant that the statute should apply in this situation, where, the dissent said, the mayor "steered more than $1 million in city contracts to a local truck dealership, which turned around and cut him a $13,000 check."


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