Consider the purrgil. Naturally self-sufficient space travelers, these majestic creatures metabolize their own hyperfuel by gulping down huge quantities of Clouzon-36 gas. Unfortunately for the humanoids of Solo: A Star Wars Story, obtaining useable hyperfuel requires considerably more effort. In the Imperial Era, coaxium has the power both to liberate and to enslave, and it is coveted by Imperials and Rebels alike. Nearly all of the characters sustain heavy losses from their efforts to profit from this valuable and extremely volatile substance.
Qi’ra’s bid for freedom is just one of many such sacrifices. Without Imperial identity chips, she and Han had no access to the usual means of travel to and from Corellia, their faded industrial homeworld. Short on time to strategize, and on the run from a criminal gang, the White Worms, they attempt to buy their way off the planet by bribing Imperial emigration officer Falthina Sharest. What could go wrong?
A lot, as it turns out. Although the two “unauthorized travelers” correctly peg the overworked and underpaid Sharest as a willing mark, they fail to make it through the gate before members of the White Worms catch up to Qi’ra. Cornered, Sharest has to make a show of doing her actual job. She sounds the alarm, cutting off Qi’ra’s chance at freedom and diverting the Stormtroopers’ attention away from the vial of coaxium she just pocketed.
What legal consequences did Sharest risk by taking the coaxium in exchange for allowing unauthorized travel off of Corellia? Let’s explore.
Criminal Conviction and Lengthy Imprisonment
Assuming Imperial law is similar to U.S. federal criminal law, Sharest risked being convicted of a felony offense if her actions were discovered. Conviction would most likely result in a significant prison term, up to 15 years. Exactly how long depends on how the court exercises its discretion to apply the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.
To get a conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 201(b)(2), the federal statute prohibiting officials from accepting bribes, the government must prove the following elements:
(1) The defendant is a “public official” within the meaning of this section;
(2) The defendant demanded, sought, received, accepted, or agreed to receive or accept anything of value personally or for any other person or entity; and
(3) The defendant did so specifically for one of the corrupt purposes identified in the statute. As relevant here, these could include either, “(A) being influenced in the performance of any official act;” or “(C) being induced to do or omit to do any act in violation of the official duty of such official or person[.]”
Here, all three elements are easily satisfied. A “public official” includes any officer, employee, or person “acting for or on behalf of the United States, or any department, agency or branch of Government thereof[.]” Assuming an equivalent Imperial definition, Lead Transport Security Officer Sharest clearly qualifies. See Becharias v. United States, 208 F. 143, 143-44 (7th Cir. 1913) (immigration inspector is a public official). She agrees to accept and actually accepts the coaxium, which is worth “five, six hundred credits,” “at least seven hundred credits,” or “at least eight hundred credits” – give or take. She appears to have a duty to deny passage to those without Imperial identity chips, which she violates by agreeing to allow Han and Qi’ra through the gate in exchange for the coaxium. The only real question would be the length of her prison sentence.
The Sentencing Guidelines assign sentencing ranges using 43 different levels. The higher the level, the more severe the offense. Under the Guidelines, the base offense level for bribery when the defendant is a public official is 14. Assuming Sharest had no prior criminal history, this would put her in Sentencing Zone D with a range of 15 to 21 months.
However, the base level can be adjusted up or down according to various mitigating and aggravating factors. Of concern for Sharest is whether her base offense level could be increased by 4 if she were determined to be “in a high-level decision-making or sensitive position,” meaning a position “characterized by a direct authority to make decisions for, or on behalf of, a government department, agency, or other government entity, or by a substantial influence over the decision-making process.” See Commentary, U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 2C1.1 (2016). Here, Sharest has at least some discretion to decide who is allowed to travel and who is not. See U.S. v. Reneslacis, 349 F.3d 412, 416 (7th Cir. 2003) (although officer “did not have a particularly lofty position within the INS, he did hold a sensitive post”). This would increase her base range to 27 to 33 months – not the kind of “leveling up” Sharest wants.
This is just one example – Sharest could certainly face other government efforts to increase her base offense level. In addition to being fined and incarcerated, Sharest may be disqualified from holding “any office of honor, trust, or profit” if convicted. See 18 U.S.C. § 201(b).
Could Han and Qi’ra face prosecution under this same statute? Of course. Section 201(b)(1) of Title 18 criminalizes giving, offering, or promising anything of value to a public official for the same corrupt purposes identified above. But, the potential 15-year sentence pales in comparison to the potential death sentence Han would face for desertion during wartime. See UCMJ, Art. 85, 10 U.S.C. § 885. And the idea that Crimson Dawn would simply hand over one of its top lieutenants to face imperial charges? I’m not very optimistic about those odds.
Additional Charges for Sale of Stolen Goods
Sharest’s willingness to take the coaxium suggests she probably knows someone who can fence it for her. Actually selling it to a fence could land her in hot water again. Sale of stolen goods worth more than $5000 is a felony where the stolen goods have crossed a state or United States boundary and are known to be stolen. See 18 U.S.C. § 2315.
A single vial of coaxium valued at 500-800 credits may not be enough to meet the federal statutory minimum, even assuming a relatively generous exchange rate of $1.50 per credit. Nevertheless, if Corellian law were similar to California law, the receipt or sale of stolen property still may be punished under the Corellian equivalent of California Penal Code section 496.
Section 496 makes sale of property known to be stolen a “wobbler,” meaning it can be charged either as a felony or a misdemeanor. Here again, the value of the coaxium may come into play, as the statute provides that if the property’s value does not exceed $950, the offense is a misdemeanor, provided the defendant has no disqualifying prior convictions.
Though Sharest may argue she didn’t know Han stole the coaxium from the White Worms, knowledge may be inferred from the circumstances, and Sharest witnessed two members of the White Worms grab Qi’ra and drag her away. And presumably, it is common knowledge that the White Worms are a criminal gang, who likely did not come by the coaxium through legitimate means. All things considered, life on Corellia must be dismal indeed for Sharest to risk her liberty, her position, and possibly her life (at the hands of the White Worms), to squeeze a relatively modest amount of extra credits out of a pair of orphan scrumrats.