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Reforms Planned for Public Corruption Prosecutions

A group consisting of 20 Florida prosecutors unanimously voiced their approval for changing two Florida statutes pertaining to public corruption prosecutions. The first proposed change would amend the definition of “public servant” to include not just publicly-elected officials or government employees but also contractors who contract with local governments and the state government. The second change would remove the requirement that prosecutors prove that the defendant acted with a “corrupt intent” (although prosecutors must still prove intentional or knowing conduct). The vote of these 20 prosecutors is not binding on any legislator or the governor, and no change in the current law was effected by the vote.

Public Corruption in Florida

There are a variety of Florida statutes that speak to what can be considered “corrupt acts” committed by public officials. There have been several high-profile public corruption cases or instances in which a public person has used his or her position for private gain in recent years, sparking outrage amongst citizens across the country. It should be no surprise, then, that these Florida prosecutors have made the recommendations they have.

In Florida, public corruption can encompass:

  • Promising or attempting to bribe a public servant; or
  • A public servant who requests, solicits, accepts, or agrees to accept a bribe.

Either act is considered a second-degree felony and can result in up to 15 years’ imprisonment and up to $15,000 in fines. In addition, it is also illegal for a public servant to:

  • Alter, destroy, or conceal official records for the benefit of a particular person or group; or
  • Disclose or use confidential criminal justice information (such as sealed court records) for an improper purpose.

These acts are third-degree felonies and can result in up to five years’ imprisonment and up to $5,000 in fines.

Presently, in addition to providing that a “public servant” was involved, the prosecution must also typically show that the perpetrator of the act must have acted with a “corrupt intent” – that is, knowledge that what he or she was doing was wrong and that the act was nevertheless done with an improper motive. In most cases, the nature of the prohibited act itself (accepting a bribe or kickback, or seeking to benefit a particular group at the expense of the general public) can be referenced as circumstantial evidence that a corrupt intent was present.

Defending Yourself Against Public Corruption Charges

Public corruption prosecutions are likely to become more and more frequent as the public demands more honesty and transparency from public officials and those who have access to these officials. Even innocuous conduct may, from time to time, lead to the filing of public corruption charges.

In a public corruption case, your intent matters as much, if not more, as the actual act committed. Jeffrey S. Weiner, Florida criminal defense attorney, has successfully represented numerous defendants charged with high-level crimes where it is alleged the client acted with an improper or corrupt motive. Schedule a free consultation to discuss your public corruption charges with him by calling (305) 670-9919.

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