Pension rights in public corruption cases involving lawmakers: looking state and federal law

Previously, we’ve looked at criminal cases dealing with the pension rights of public officials convicted on charges of corruption. The issue we’re looking at with respect to the corruption cases we’ve mentioned is whether a public official convicted on corruption charges can have his or her pension rights taken away, whether by forfeiture or by some other penalty which effectively removes the pension fund.

At the state level, there are varying laws on the matter. Some states allow for the direct revocation of pensions for public officials or employees under certain circumstances. Here in Maryland, state legislators can have their pensions revoked if they are convicted of a felony committed during their time in office or for a misdemeanor related to official duties and responsibilities. As we’ve noted, other public officials may be subjected to a fine equal to the value of their pensions under certain circumstances, but that law has yet to be applied.

At the federal level, there are laws in place that can be used to revoke the pensions of member of Congress, as well as other public officials and employees, who are convicted of corruption. Under the Hiss Act, Members of Congress, as well as most federal employees and officers, forfeit their retirement annuities if convicted of certain federal crimes, including espionage and treason.

In addition, other federal laws allow for forfeiture of federal pensions for Members of Congress convicted of a variety of corruption-related crimes. These provisions require that the criminal misconduct was engaged in while the individual was a Member of Congress or occupying another office of federal, local or state government. To apply, every element of the offense must relate directly to the official’s time in office.

In building a solid criminal defense case, it is critical to not only address the laws and evidence relating to liability for criminal charges, but also the laws and evidence surrounding the imposition of penalties. Whether these penalties come from state or federal law, a skilled attorney can work with the aim of minimizing the consequences of criminal charges and achieving the best possible resolution to the case.


Congressional Research Service, “Loss of Federal Pensions for Members of Congress Convicted of Certain Offenses,” Jack Maskell, September 12, 2013., “State Pension Forfeiture Laws,” May 2012.


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