Extortion is a criminal offense which occurs when an individual obtains property by means of:

  • An oral threat or a written threat;
  • Intimidation; or
  • A false claim.

Typical examples of extortion include:

  • A threat to physically harm the victim or an individual who is close to the victim;
  • Threats to damage the victim’s property; or
  • Threats to ruin the victim’s reputation, also sometimes called blackmail.

The crime of extortion includes the following elements:

  • There was some type of communication by the defendant to the plaintiff, or victim;
  • Threatening accusation of a crime, offense, or any injury to the victim or a family member of the victim;
  • With intent to extort money or gain a pecuniary advantage; or
  • The use of force or threat to compel a public official or officer to perform an official act.

How is Blackmail Different from Extortion?

Blackmail is typically considered a form of extortion, even though the two offenses are actually quite different. If an individual commits blackmail, unlike extortion, the action that the perpetrator is offering to refrain from taking is a legal action.

In other words, aside from the moral implications of what the perpetrator is doing, their exposure of the information is not technically a crime. However, blackmail, or using the information to threaten another individual, is a crime.

What Are the Consequences of Blackmail?

Similar to extortion, blackmail is a felony. A defendant who is convicted of a felony may face:

  • Imprisonment;
  • Heavy fines;
  • Probation; or
  • A combination thereof.

What are Felonies?

In criminal law, there are two different classes of crimes, misdemeanors and felonies. A misdemeanor may be punished by up to one year in jail.

A felony is considered to be a more serious crime. It is typically punishable by imprisonment for a term of one year or more.

With a crime against property, in general, the more significant the destruction to the property, or the value of the property which was stolen, the more likely the crime will be classified as a felony. With a crime against a person, the more serious the harm, the more likely the crime will be classified as a felony.

The following factors being present makes a crime more likely to be classified as a felony:

  • The use of force;
  • The use of a weapon; or
  • Committing the crime against:
    • a child;
    • an elderly individual; or
    • a member of law enforcement.

What is the Difference Between Extortion and Robbery?

The offense of extortion is defined more broadly than the offense of robbery. This means that the threats are not required to be immediate. Instead, the threat may be of some type of future harm.

In addition, the property does not have to be taken at the time that the treat is made. The property may be obtained at a later time.

What is Robbery?

The crime of robbery is a felony theft that includes the taking of another individual’s property by using:

  • Force;
  • Intimidation; or
  • The threat of force.

Robbery may also be called larceny by threat or force. In certain states, the use or threat of force is not required to be directed at the intended victim.

The threat, however, is required to be immediate and the offense must be committed in the presence of the victim. If a defendant commits a robbery while using a firearm or other deadly weapon, it may be considered armed robbery, which often results in a harsher penalty for the defendant.

Although the laws governing robbery vary by state, the elements of robbery typically include:

  • The taking and carrying away;
  • Of the personal property of another;
  • From their possession or in their presence;
  • Against their will; and
  • By:
    • force;
    • fear;
    • violence;
    • intimidation; or
    • threat of force.

It is important to be aware that although robbery is often confused with the crime of burglary, they are distinct offenses. Burglary is defined as breaking and entering into a residence or other building with the intent to commit a felony inside.

The main distinction between robbery and burglary requires breaking and entering but does not require the use or threat of force.

What are Possible Consequences of Extortion?

Extortion is classified as a felony offense in every state which carries severe consequences. Additionally, the offense of extortion will become a federal offense if it interferes with interstate commerce.

A defendant who is convicted of extortion may face a variety of penalties, which include:

In the majority of extortion cases, probation is not available unless the extortion was only attempted and was not successful.

What Should I Do if I Have Been Accused of Extortion?

If an individual has been accused of extortion, they should speak to a criminal defense lawyer immediately to learn more about their rights, available defenses, and how to defend against the charges.

What Should I Do as a Victim of Extortion?

If an individual believes they are being extorted, they should call law enforcement. If sufficient evidence of extortion exists, law enforcement will forward the case to the local District Attorney’s office.

A prosecutor from that office will handle prosecuting the extorter and possibly obtaining restitution for the victim.

What Are Possible Defenses Against Extortion?

There are several possible defenses to extortion, including:

  • Factual innocence;
  • Insufficient evidence;
  • Intoxication, insanity, or incapacity;
  • Mistake; and
  • Duress or necessity.

The defense of factual innocence may be available if a defendant’s conduct fails to meet the elements of the offense. To convict a defendant of extortion, there must have been a threat to do harm or to expose information. If no threat was made, or the alleged victim unreasonably interpreted a non-threatening comment as a threat, the elements of extortion will not be met.

If there is insufficient evidence, or not adequate evidence, to show that extortion occurred, the charges will be dropped before it reaches a fact finder. A defendant may exercise challenges to the way in which law enforcement collected evidence in order to limit the amount of evidence against them, including:

A defendant may use the defenses of intoxication, insanity, or incapacity, which relates to their mental state, it may prevent a defendant from being convicted of extortion if they negate the required men’s rea, or state or mind, required to obtain an extortion conviction. Additionally, these conditions may affect whether or not it was reasonable for a victim to believe that the threat was genuine.

The defense of mistake may be available when a reasonable mistake of fact, or the ignorance of a fact, negates the required men’s rea for extortion. For example, this defense may be available to a defendant who reasonably believed the property they were attempting to obtain was their own.

The defenses of duress and necessity may be available when a defendant believed they had no choice but to commit the crime. Duress excuses a crime which is committed under threat of imminent death or great bodily harm. Necessity justifies a crime which is committed where a defendant reasonably believes their crime was the only way to avoid a greater societal injury.

Should I Contact an Attorney?

It is essential to have the assistance of a criminal law attorney as soon as possible if you have been charged with extortion. The circumstances of your case will govern whether or not the previously discussed defenses to extortion may apply.

Your attorney can review the facts of your case, determine what defenses may apply, and represent you during any court appearances. They may, in some cases, be able to negotiate a plea deal or a reduction of your charges.