In the United States, government officials may be elected to office or appointed to an office. Whether an official is elected or appointed to office the official is expected to adhere to a strict code of conduct while in office. If an official breaches that code of conduct it may rise to the level of “ official misconduct ”. Depending on the facts and circumstances, the conduct could also lead to more serious charges such as bribery of an official, public servant, or judicial officer.
The term “official misconduct” refers to an illegal act by a public official in California and is covered under the California Penal Code Section 801 et. seq. To be covered under that section you must be an employee or official of the government. An illegal act is defined as an unauthorized act that was committed while the official was in office or was undertaking his or her prescribed duty of care to the public. For an act or omission to rise to the level of official misconduct the defendant must have clearly known that the conduct was unlawful at the time the conduct occurred. In other words, a law must have been in place at the time making the conduct unlawful. Moreover, a claim of official misconduct must be pursued within four years of the time the act was committed or within four years of the discovery of the commission of the offense. Just to make matters more complicated, individual cities or towns may also have specific laws addressing official misconduct, in which case the definition could be narrower.
While official misconduct can encompass a wide variety of conduct, specific conduct by a government official can result in much more serious charges. Bribery, for example, is often charged as a felony when a government official is involved. Conviction for bribery of a judicial officer or government official could result in a prison sentence of two to four years in California.
Official misconduct could also be covered under a number of federal statutes, collectively referred to as the “honest services fraud” statutes. These offenses also typically involve bribery of a public official and/or failing to disclose a conflict of interest. In short, any time a government official receives something of value in exchange for doing something or not doing something relating to his or her official functions, it may be a violation of one of the “honest service fraud” statutes.
A conviction for official misconduct, bribery, or one of the honest service fraud statutes will have serious judicial and non-judicial consequences. If you have been charged with one of these offenses it is crucial that you consult with an experienced California criminal defense attorney right away to discuss your legal options.
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