Extortion cases are always complicated. It’s common to see innocent or well-meaning people find themselves in legal trouble as the result of a misunderstanding or mistake.

Also known as “blackmail,” extortion is the crime of using force or threats to cause another person to give you money or property. It also applies in cases where someone has used force or fear to obtain favorable acts from public officials.

This broad definition can make situations difficult. Are you committing extortion if you aggressively pursue someone for money or property that they owe you? What about situations with shared property? When do interactions with public officials cross the line?

We’ll dive into the specifics a little further down, but in the meantime, it’s important to know that if you or someone you know has been accused of extortion, we’d recommend speaking with a defense attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney will review the facts of your case with you, advise you of the options available to you and help you craft your defense.

Extortion law in California

In order to convict someone of a crime, a prosecutor has to prove to a jury that certain facts of the case were true. This shows that the defendant was guilty of committing the crime.

These facts are known as the “elements of the crime,” and under California Penal Code 518 PC, extortion has four elements:

  1. The defendant threatened to do one of the following:
    1. Commit an unlawful injury or use force against the victim, a third party or property.
    2. Accuse the victim or a family member of the victim of a crime.
    3. Expose a “secret” involving the victim or a family member, or connect them with another kind of disgrace or scandal.
  2. The threat was made with the intent to get the victim to consent to giving the defendant money, property or an official act in their favor.
  3. As a result of the threat, the defendant did consent to give the defendant money, property or perform an official act.
  4. The victim then gave the money, property or performed the act in the defendant’s favor.

Note that the prosecutor must prove that the defendant intended to force the victim into an act to achieve a specific result, and that the act is what caused the victim to give the defendant money, property or an official act in their favor.

Let’s look at two examples:

Example 1: Mike and Linda are divorced, and they are sharing custody of their child. Linda threatens Mike that, unless he sends her more money in child support, she will accuse him of sexually assaulting their child. Mike reports this to the police and Linda is arrested. Even though this situation had most of the elements of extortion, Mike never gave Linda additional money, so this is not extortion.

Example 2: Don is a local politician who is embezzling money from the treasury. Steve is a concerned citizen who becomes aware of this. He confronts Don and threatens to expose Don’s actions to the public unless he votes in favor of a cause that Steve is passionate about. Don does so. Even though Don was involved in an illegal act himself and Steve believed he was acting morally, Steve is likely guilty of extortion here.

Penalties for extortion in California

Extortion is a felony in California. It is punishable by:

  • Up to 4 years in California State Prison
  • Up to $10,000 in fines
  • Loss of gun rights
  • Deportation or other immigration restrictions

Defenses against extortion charges

As we mentioned above, extortion cases are complicated. People make decisions and act in what they feel is in their best interest and it can lead to situations involving the criminal justice system.

In order to prove that you committed extortion, a prosecutor must show that you specifically intended to use force or fear to compel someone else to give you money, property or the benefits of an official act — and that you actually followed through with it.

The most common defenses against extortion charges are false accusation, no evidence that the defendant actually used force or threats, and no evidence that the defendant actually received money or property from the victim.

Your attorney will review the facts of the case with you and help you determine which options are the best for you. In addition to the criminal penalties above, facing extortion allegations can be personally and professionally damaging. An experienced attorney will be your advocate in the public space and work to clear your name.

Extortion defense attorney Robert M. Helfend has served the Los Angeles area since 1984, and he is ready to take your case. Call today for your free case evaluation – 800-834-6434.