Can any of us think back to a day when we didn’t either hear or read of the phrase “Quid Pro Quo” on a news broadcast or read it in a daily newspaper?.  I submit for most of us the phrase might as well have been “Greek” to us.  Well if you thought that way, you were close!

“Quid Pro Quo” is Latin.  A phrase this writer was first exposed to in the classrooms of Seton Hall University’s School of Law.  Quid pro quo literally translated from Latin means “this for that”.  BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY defines it as “something for something; used in law for the giving one valuable thing for another.  Nothing more than mutual consideration which passes between the parties to a contract and which renders it valid and binding”.

 The OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY suggests the phrase originated in a medical context, substituting one medicine for another.   In common law quid pro quo was historically used by Courts in their application of contract law, e.g. where parties dispute the propriety or equity of a transaction.  Overtime Courts have expanded the concept to criminal matters.  

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 Criminal Courts have applied the above definitions which hail from common law legal decisions as well as the codified criminal law of the more modern era.  Statutes have made certain nefarious activities criminal in an attempt to bring to justice those guilty of corruption.  Being from New Jersey we probably all know someone alleged to be involved in the “rackets”.  Implementation of Federal RICO statutes have specifically been used to prosecute racketeers or purveyors of organized crime.  RICO stands for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

Quid pro quo is also being used to prosecute matters where sexual harassment in the work place is alleged. Remember “this for that”.   A promotion perhaps for a sexual favor.

In the news of late, the President is being called in to account for alleged “bribery”. Bribery along with treason, high crimes and misdemeanors are specifically delineated in our Constitution as to what an impeachable offenses may be.   The word “bribery” has joined “quid pro quo” as a talking point in the campaign to secure impeachment.  Conduct may become bribery when there has been a CLEAR EXCHANGE of consideration (usually money) for an official act.  It need not be money, however.

The facts that may give rise to an impeachable offense have, of course, differed historically.  The one constant over almost 250 years is that what type of “quid pro quo” constitutes an impeachable offense depends on the political party holding a majority in the House of Representatives.


The author is admitted to practice law in the State of New Jersey, the District of Columbia, the US Federal District Court and the US Army Court of Criminal Appeals.  He is a retired Major in the US Army, Judge Advocate General Corps.  He conducts a law practice in Hasbrouck Heights.