Extortion is usually charged as a felony and it carries a penalty of two, three or four years in county jail, a $10,000 fine, or both.
However, if any instrument of ‘interstate commerce’ such as the Internet or the U.S. Postal Service is used to make threats, the case can be prosecuted by federal officials under 18 U.S. Code Chapter 41, which will result in harsh penalties and reduced plea bargaining maneuvering.
There are three statutes under the California Penal Code that deal with extortion and blackmail:
- Extortion by threat or force (Penal Code 518)
- Extortion by threatening letter (Penal Code 523)
- Extortion of signature (Penal Code 522)
The elements of extortion by threat or force are:
(1) The defendant threatened to do one of the following to the victim:
a. Unlawfully injure or use force against him/her, a third party, or his/her property,
b. Accuse him/her or a relative or family member of a crime, OR
c. Expose a secret involving him/her or a family member, or connect any of them with some kind of crime, disgrace, or scandal.
(2) When making the threat or using force, the defendant intended to force the victim into consenting to give him/her money or property or to do an official act;
(3) As a result of the threat, the victim did consent to give the defendant money or property or do an official act; AND
(4) The victim then actually did give the defendant money or property or perform the official act.
Examples of Defense Against Extortion
To be guilty of blackmail in California, the threat you make must be the primary motive for the other person agreeing to giving you his/her property or to perform an official act. If, during a preliminary investigation, we can prove that the alleged victim consented to handing over his/her property for a reason other than your force or threat, you will not be guilty of extortion.
There is often scant physical evidence in extortion trials and verdicts often hinge upon the victim’s testimony, which is not always totally reliable or even credible. We may be able to prove that you didn’t threaten the other person, or that he/she was not placed in actual fear.