For centuries, people have given gifts to convey their thanks and affection. Gift-giving is often a sign of goodwill, but when it is done to put pressure on a public official, it can quickly descend into bribery. Even if the recipient declines to accept the bribe, offering it in the first place is illegal.
When is a gift appropriate?
There is nothing wrong with giving someone a gift as a token of thanks. Likewise, giving gifts appropriate for a special occasion such as a wedding, childbirth or commemorating someone’s recovery from an illness may also be acceptable. But if that gift is given with the expectation of receiving something or changing an outcome in return, things can quickly become complicated.
It is worth noting it is generally unacceptable for public officials to accept any gifts save for a few exceptions. For instance, a public official may only accept a gift if it is a reasonable amount of food and non-alcoholic drinks, costs $20 or less or is given because of a personal relationship.
Generally, it is advisable to avoid offering a gift that would cause any reasonable individual to doubt the public official’s integrity or impartiality.
What constitutes bribery?
In South Carolina, giving something of value to a public official, government employee or elected representative in order to influence how they enact their responsibilities constitutes bribery. Likewise, because the law deems soliciting and accepting something of value to be bribery, it may equally apply to the recipient.
The people’s perception of the government deteriorates when public officials commit acts of corruption such as bribery. Therefore, anyone caught engaging in bribery of a public official may face a felony charge that carries up to 10 years in jail and pay a fine of up to $10,000.
South Carolina imposes harsh and life-changing punishments for bribery. Anyone suspected of bribery might want to speak with a criminal defense attorney for guidance on how to navigate the criminal justice system and what possible defenses might be effective for them.