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When you hear the word “extortion,” you probably think of mobsters hassling local store owners for money in exchange for protection. Although the mob days in the United States are supposedly over, extortion still occurs. Extortion has more faces than you may know and such severe penalties that you should never take the charges lightly. Whether prosecutors accuse you of state-level or federal-level extortion, you stand to lose your freedom, career, and reputation. To learn more about this white-collar crime, continue reading.
Suppose California has arrested and charged you with extortion. In that case, you may wish to contact an extortion defense lawyer or blackmail attorney. Blackmail is another name for extortion. Although “blackmail” may not sound as daunting as extortion, it’s the same crime and very serious. Extortion can be a state or federal offense. The attorney general may charge you with state or federal crime or both. Extortion cases are often drawn-out, mentally exhausting, and can have significant consequences should you be convicted. If you find yourself in this situation and want to up your chances of avoiding incarceration and thousands in fines, contact My Rights Law at (888) 702-8882 or online for a free consultation.
Extortion As A California State Offense
Extortion occurs when you use unlawful means to get property or something of value (including sex or sexually suggestive pictures) from someone else. Unlawful means include threatening to accuse another person of a crime, threatening to cause injury to that person, threatening to expose a secret of that person, and force. Below are some scenarios to further explain this felony offense.
Joe and Sam are friends. Joe and Sam are both forty-seven, and Sam works for Joe. Sam learns that Joe is having an affair, and Joe stands to lose big in a divorce if his wife finds out. Sam has pictures of Joe cheating. He threatens to hand these pictures to Joe’s wife unless Joe gives his Porsche and $50,000 to Sam.
Chrisette and Angela work together at a federal bank. Angela is Chrisette’s supervisor and has access to everyone’s records. Angela asks Chrisette to testify on her behalf against her husband. Chrisette has never met Angela’s husband, so she says no. Angered, Angela tells Chrisette that she will accuse Chrisette of theft unless Chrisette agrees to testify.
Carl holds a gun to Shiela’s head as he tells her to unlock her company’s safe to get money out.
A police officer, public official, or other government official may be perpetrator or victim of this white-collar crime. However, this law doesn’t apply when a minor (i.e., someone under eighteen) uses threats or force to get sex or sexually explicit photos. Other criminal charges apply under those circumstances.
Extortion is a felony, punishable by two to four years in state prison. In some cases, extortion is a misdemeanor under Penal Code 521 if you acted in your official capacity (an official act) and the law carves out an exception for a different punishment. If you attempted extortion, you’re guilty of a misdemeanor under Penal Code 524. A judge may sentence you to one year in county jail and order you to pay a fine of $10,000 or less.
Delivering or printing false court documents to use in your extortion attempt is a misdemeanor punishable by one year in jail under penal codes 526 and 527. Penal Code 526 prohibits delivering or leading someone to believe you have a legitimate court document incriminating them. Penal Code 527 prohibits selling, printing, or writing false court documents to use to threaten or force someone.
Regarding any of these punishments, the judge may enhance your sentence if your victim was elderly or a dependent (including a mentally or physically dependent person), according to Penal Code 525.
To avoid these charges, contact My Rights Law today at (888) 702-8882 or schedule an appointment online to benefit from our services.
There are defenses to every crime, and a Los Angeles extortion defense lawyer at My Rights Law can help clarify what defenses apply in your situation. Usually, the most strategic way to raise a reasonable doubt that you committed a crime is to tackle its elements. Elements are what a prosecutor must prove to jurors to demonstrate your guilt. In this case, one aspect of extortion is that the use of threat or force must be a controlling reason behind the victim’s consent.
Extortion doesn’t exist where you have a legal right to take specific actions. Extortions can only be present if you use illegal means to do something or get someone else to do something. Suppose you’re a mandatory reporter and discover that your friend is abusing their daughter. You warn your friend that you’ll have to report him unless he stops his behavior immediately and seeks counseling. This warning isn’t extortion because you have a legal right—and duty—to report the conduct.
Not A Controlling Reason
There is a fair chance that a jury will find you not guilty if you successfully argue that the threat wasn’t a controlling reason behind why the alleged victim acted. Remember, whatever the supposed victim did couldn’t be something they planned to do already or already wanted to do. Their consent must be primarily based on the undue pressure and force you applied to them. Otherwise, their accusation of extorting falls short.
Here’s an example of when neither threat nor force is not the controlling reason. Samantha is dating Jennifer’s brother, Cody, but Samantha and Jennifer aren’t close. The police arrested Cody on drug charges. Jennifer is a correctional officer who doesn’t want her brother locked up. She starts arranging to deliver a money package to someone who can make his charges “disappear.” Samantha doesn’t know about Jennifer’s plans. Still, Samantha is sure that Jennifer’s occupation would allow her to get Cody out of trouble. Thus, Samantha calls Jennifer and says she’ll tell Jennifer’s employer that Jennifer also uses and sells drugs unless she makes Cody’s charges go away. Because Jennifer already planned to do this, there’s no extortion.
Usually, prosecutors need hard evidence, mainly because they have the burden of proof. Without sufficient evidence, it is less likely they can convince jurors that you’re guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Insufficient evidence may come by way of lack of:
Inconclusive fingerprint results
Lack of D.N.A. evidence (if it applies, such as in a case involving sex)
Inconsistencies in witness testimony (e.g., key facts change throughout their statements)
Suppressed evidence (i.e., the judge had to prevent certain evidence from being admitted into court because the police obtained it illegally, such as in violation of your Fourth Amendment rights).
Extortion As A Federal Offense
A jury may find you guilty of federal extortion if, using interstate or foreign commerce (i.e., traveling, transporting, or communicating) to get money or something of value:
You threatened to kidnap someone.
You demanded money to release a person you kidnapped.
You threatened to hurt a kidnapped person.
You threatened to damage someone’s property.
You threatened to accuse someone of illegal activity.
Bear in mind that writing or emailing threats suffice for a prosecutor to bring extortion charges. Also, you don’t need to threaten the person you want to harm. Rather, just telling someone you want to hurt another person brings you into violation of this statute. Importantly, the prosecutor doesn’t need to prove that you intended to make well on your threat. The threat itself is injurious enough.
Sentencing varies for this crime because there are different types of extortion. Suppose you willfully and knowingly threaten to murder, kidnap, or hurt a former president or his family. In that case, a judge may sentence you up to five years under 18 U.S. Code § 879. The sentence maximum is the same if you target the current president or his successors under 18 U.S. Code § 871. Receiving money from a ransom or other blackmail type is punishable under 18 U.S. Code § 880 by one year.
You can face a maximum of three years if you commit extortion under 18 U.S. Code § 872, which criminalizes government employees and officers extorting others. However, if the extortion amount is only $1000 or less, you can only face up to a year in jail. Using the United States Postal Service to commit extortion is much more severe. If convicted, you stand to face up to twenty years in prison, according to 18 U.S. Code § 876. The punishment is the same if you send threatening or ransom mail to or from a foreign country, so says 18 U.S. Code § 877.
Some potential defenses for this criminal offense include, but are not limited to:
False testimony (you were falsely accused)
Lack of mental capacity
Lack of criminal intent
Involuntarily (a third party forced you to extort someone)
Contact An Extortion Lawyer At My Rights Law
For a more strategic, tailored defense to your unique circumstances, call us at (888) 702-8882 or contact us by filling out our secure web form. My Rights Law has helped countless California residents avoid lengthy prison sentences, and we’re skilled at getting cases dismissed. We help our clients determine the courses of action for their cases, whether deferred treatment into a mental health program, plea, or fighting the charges head-on to avoid an extortion conviction. Consider reading about our former clients.