Political Bribes (Part 3)

by | Jun 12, 2022 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The appellate panel continued in relevant part: To view the no-defense provision as supportive of defendant’s position requires a distortion of what the Legislature clearly stated. Besides the trial judge’s decision here, this mangled view actually finds support in a reported decision of one federal district judge, who interpreted this provision in a way favorable to a bribed-but-unsuccessful candidate for office. See Manzo, 851 F. Supp. 2d at 812. We can explain why the no-defense provision is unavailing to defendant by explaining why Manzo is erroneous.

In that case, Manzo was charged with violating the Travel Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1952, which required proof that Manzo had engaged in interstate commerce to promote unlawful conduct, which was an alleged violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:27-2 that occurred while Manzo was unsuccessfully running to become mayor of Jersey City. In considering the scope of the no-defense provision, the district judge explained that it was clear to him that the language addresses two distinct parties: the person whom the actor sought to influence, and the actor himself. The “actor” is presumably the individual prosecuted under the statute – in this case, Defendant Louis Manzo – and substituting the named Defendant with the term “actor” in the provision indicates that the provision was intended to exclude any “not qualified to act” defenses as made by bribe givers, rather than bribe receivers.

In other words, the judge viewed the no-defense provision as describing the defenses that are not available – which is accurate – but the judge then also viewed the provision as depriving only the bribe giver of the potential defense. The logic of this escapes us.

The Manzo decision interprets the no-defense provision as if the words and phrases we have emphasized below were included: It is no defense to prosecution of a bribe offeror or giver under this section that a person whom the actor sought to influence was not qualified to act. If the Legislature intended to qualify the reach of this provision, it certainly knew how to express that thought. Indeed, an example of how to limit a similar provision’s reach is expressed in the statute’s very next paragraph, which begins “In any prosecution under this section of an actor. Because it failed to qualify the “prosecution” referred to in the opening phrases of the no-defense provision, we must assume the Legislature intended that the provision would apply to all prosecutions and that it would deprive both bribe givers and bribe receivers of the argument that the bribe receiver lacked, for any reason – including the failure to get elected – the ability to fulfill his part of the bargain.

The tone of the Court’s opinion is that the defense was making an argument on appeal that was borderline frivolous. The facts this case produced a published appellate opinion and that a federal district court agreed with the defense position demonstrates that the arguments here were not frivolous.