Extortion is the crime of wrongfully obtaining money or property through oral or written threats. Typical examples include threats to physically harm the victim or someone close to the victim, threats to damage the victim’s property, and threats to ruin the victim’s reputation – also called "blackmail." Extortion is a felony offense in all states. Criminal penalties might include imprisonment, fines, property forfeiture, and restitution to the victim.
What Are Possible Defenses against Extortion?
Possible defenses to extortion include:
- Factual Innocence: If the defendant’s conduct fails to meet the elements of the crime, the defendant is not guilty. Extortion requires a threat to do harm or expose information. If there was no threat, or the alleged victim unreasonably interpreted a benign comment as a threat, the elements of extortion have not been met.
- Insufficient Evidence: If there is inadequate evidence to support a finding that extortion occurred, the case will be thrown out before it reaches a fact finder. Challenges to the manner in which law enforcement authorities collected evidence – such as wrongful search, seizure, and interrogation claims – can limit the amount of evidence available against you.
- Intoxication, Insanity, or Incapacity: These defenses, which relate to the defendant’s mental state, may bar a conviction for extortion if they negate the requisite "mens rea," or "state of mind" for extortion. In addition, these conditions might also affect whether it was reasonable for the alleged victim to believe the threat was genuine.
- Mistake: The defense of mistake is available when a reasonable mistake of fact, or ignorance of a fact, negates the requisite "mens rea" for extortion. This defense might be available, for example, where the defendant reasonably believed the property he was attempting to obtain was his own.
- Duress or Necessity: The defenses of duress and necessity are available where the defendant felt he had no choice but to commit the crime. Duress excuses crimes committed under threat of imminent death or great bodily harm. Necessity justifies crimes committed where the defendant reasonably believed his crime was the only way to avoid a greater societal injury.
What If I Have Been Accused of Extortion?
If you have been accused of extortion, you should contact an experienced criminal law attorney right away. Whether one of the above defenses applies will depend on the circumstances of your case. An experienced attorney will be able to analyze your situation and determine the best defenses to pursue.