Only a hypothetical question (series of questions), but I've heard that taking a bribe is illegal as of the moment the bribe is received. Since the source in question is far from a legal expert, I'm curious about how this actually works (in theory and in practice) if someone were to attempt to take a bribe for the express purpose of securing the evidence (so that the one offering the bribe can't deny it).

Now this is obviously making some assumptions about the nature of the bribe (it would be different if it were, say, a fancy watch versus a paid trip to a resort or an overly expensive dinner), so there are a few scenarios I'm curious about.

  • If a physical object is offered (a watch, say) and accepted, could the bribe then be taken to the police immediately after without repercussions, or would even that be no good?

  • If an event of some sort was offered, could the bribee attend while collecting video evidence? I assume this would be strongly discouraged as a form of vigilantism, but would it be illegal in theory? In practice?

  • Straying further into the absurd, I'm not at all sure if undercover police are in the habit of offering bribes, but if you accepted such a bribe (say, again, a watch or other expensive physical object), then when would the truth come out? Would they arrest you on the spot, or wait to see if you contacted authorities about it? I'm guessing it's pretty hard to run into this situation by accident, or that this isn't even something that happens (or that it happens much differently than I'm imagining).

I'm guessing that the entire reason why this sort of thing is so inadvisable is the obvious chance of misunderstandings, but I'm curious what the real-world results would be of these hollywood-esque scenarios.

  • 1
    Usually, even attempting to bribe someone is a crime, so I'm not sure that this would be necessary.
    – ohwilleke
    Jun 29, 2018 at 0:39

1 Answer 1


I've heard that taking a bribe is illegal as of the moment the bribe is received.

The exact law will vary by state. Under Wisconsin law, accepting a bribe is, of course, a crime. Offering to accept a bribe is illegal under the same law. Also, the conspiracy law comes into play "if one or more of the parties to the conspiracy does an act to effect its object," which is pretty much anything beyond just talking about it. If you've agreed on the terms of the bribe and the person drives to the ATM to get the money, both of you may have already committed bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery before the money changes hands.

In a case like this, I suppose you could try to claim privilege:

The fact that the actor's conduct is privileged, although otherwise criminal, is a defense to prosecution for any crime based on that conduct. The defense of privilege can be claimed under any of the following circumstances...

(3) When the actor's conduct is in good faith and is an apparently authorized and reasonable fulfillment of any duties of a public office; or
(4) When the actor's conduct is a reasonable accomplishment of a lawful arrest; or ...
(6) When for any other reason the actor's conduct is privileged by the statutory or common law of this state.

But, unless you are the police, or working with them at the time, this seems shaky at best.

Even if the actions are not privileged as a matter of law, it is possible that the prosecutor would decline to prosecute someone in such a circumstance, especially if the person came forward immediately and their evidence allowed the briber to be prosecuted. I would not want to test this, though.

I'm not at all sure if undercover police are in the habit of offering bribes

Not unless they have a reason to think you're already in the habit of accepting bribes. Otherwise it would likely be entrapment.

Would they arrest you on the spot or wait to see if you contacted authorities about it?

They could very well arrest you on the spot, and probably would. They wouldn't wait to see if you contacted authorities. They might wait a short time if they didn't think they had the manpower to arrest you right then, or if they didn't want to blow the cover of the undercover officer. They might wait a little longer if they thought you'd lead them to other criminals. Obviously, the "I was just collecting evidence" defense becomes even more problematic if the police arrest you before you have the chance to come forward - at that point it's almost impossible for you to show your intent.

  • I read that "conspiracy" doesn't come into play where it is in the nature of the crime that two parties must be involved - like bribery, prostitution if it is illegal. Now if I bribe two police officers who know of each offer, that might be conspiracy.
    – gnasher729
    May 31, 2018 at 20:08
  • @gnasher729 Do you remember where you read that? If you have a source I'll edit out the conspiracy part.
    – D M
    Jun 1, 2018 at 15:59
  • @gnasher729 What you say sounds like it applies in some cases, but I don't think it actually applies here. A person may be guilty of bribery without being part of a conspiracy. For example, if the bribe is offered and not accepted, that's bribery but there's no conspiracy. (Although it may be moot, because you can only be convicted of one or the other, and why would they even bother to charge you with conspiracy when they could just directly charge you with bribery?)
    – D M
    Jun 2, 2018 at 2:42

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