Bribery of County Supervisor Case In California

People v. Diedrich (1982), 31 Cal. 3d 263, involved convictions of a county supervisor on two counts of bribery, in violation of section 165, by a developer that was seeking to have its property released from an agricultural preserve agreement. The proof on count I showed that in March 1974, the developer had indirectly provided the supervisor with benefits, and the supervisor contemporaneously had prepared a resolution and agreement by which the board of supervisors released the property from the agricultural preserve, but with the proviso that the developer later dedicate an easement to certain unspecified acreage, to be approved by the board in the future. Count II charged that the supervisor had received another bribe on December 31, 1974, and the evidence showed that on that date he had received $ 20,000, indirectly from the developer. The supervisor contended that the evidence on count II was insufficient because no specific action regarding the developer's land had been pending before the board of supervisors on December 31, 1974. Section 165 addresses bribery of county supervisors, city council members, and similar members of local elective bodies. Its explicit terms closely resemble those of section 68 and section 67.5, as read in conjunction with section 7, subdivision 6. Moreover, the latter definition of bribe applies to section 165 as well. (Diedrich, supra, 31 Cal. 3d at p. 272, fn. 5.) The several statutes merit a like construction. Indeed, in the portion of Diedrich discussed immediately below, the Supreme Court when applying section 165 relied heavily on a case that had been brought under section 68 (People v. Markham (1883) 64 Cal. 157 [30 P. 620]). Rejecting this contention, the Supreme Court stated: "The law does not require any specific action to be pending on the date the bribe is received. Penal Code section 165 prohibits asking or receiving a bribe to effect the consideration '. . . of any question or matter, upon which [a person named by the statue] may be required to act in his official capacity, . . .' (Italics added.) The use of the word 'may' suggests that payments designed to alter the outcome of any matter that could conceivably come before the official are within the prohibition of the statute." (Diedrich, supra, 31 Cal. 3d at p. 276.) The court proceeded to explain that "In this case, there is ample evidence of matters that might have come before the board of supervisors: (1) zoning approvals for housing tracts to be developed; (2) allocation of gas tax for building roads in the area; (3) use of open space for orchards; (4) sale of land needed for a flood plain to the county. Evidence concerning each of these issues was received at trial." (Diedrich, supra, 31 Cal. 3d at p. 276.) Furthermore, the court observed, the developer was obligated to dedicate acreage to the county in 100-acre lots, annually between 1976 and 1981, and the supervisors retained discretion to decide the suitability of the land the developer would in the future so offer. This approval too--as to which the board had not taken action at the time of trial--also "was a matter that might come before Diedrich in his official capacity." (Id. at p. 277.) Diedrich thus both declares and demonstrates that bribery does not require that a specific official action be pending when the bribe is given, or that there be proof that the bribe was intended to influence any particular such act. Rather, it is sufficient that the evidence reflect that there existed subjects of potential action by the recipient, and that the bribe was given or received with the intent that some such action be influenced.