Extortion – California Penal Code sections 518, 519, 520
In California, the crime of extortion is the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, or the obtaining of an official act of a public officer, induced by a wrongful use of force or fear, or under color of official right.
Extortion may be committed by the application of force, such as, I won’t stop hitting you until you give me the password to your debit card, but it can also be committed by forcing someone to do the same thing out of fear. The Penal Code states that fear, such as will constitute extortion, may be induced by the threat of the following:
- To do an unlawful injury to the person or property of the individual threatened or of a third person. An example is, I will hit you if you don’t give me your money.
- To accuse the individual threatened, or a relative of his or her, or a member of his or her family, of a crime. An example is, I will accuse you of theft if you don’ give me your money.
- To expose, or to impute to him, her, or them a deformity, disgrace, or crime. An example is, I will say you got so drunk last night that you had sex with multiple partners if you don’t give me money.
- To expose a secret affecting him, her, or them. An example is, I will tell people you about how your cheated on your spouse unless you pay me money.
- To report his, her, or their immigration status or suspected immigration status. An example would be, I will tell INS you are an illegal immigrant unless you pay me money.
The term, “property,” basically means anything of value, such as, but not limited to, money, a signature on a document, a deed to a house, a promise to do some official act, such as a pardon or a dismissal of a case, valuable photographs, a contract, etc.
It is a felony to commit the crime of extortion and the court may impose a 2, 3, or 4 year state prison sentence as punishment.
If the extortion was done by an official in the government, then then the crime may be charged as a misdemeanor.
If the extortion is done against an elder person, then that fact will be used by the judge to consider imposing the 4 year prison sentence, rather than the 2 or 3 years term.
How does the prosecutor prove the crime of extortion?
To prove the crime of extortion, the prosecutor must prove that:
- The defendant used force against another or threatened to do one or more of the following:
- unlawfully injure,
- threatened to accuse the person or another person of a crime, or
- threatened to expose a secret about another person,
- When making the threat or using force, the defendant intended to use that fear or force to obtain the other person’s consent to give the defendant money or property or to do an official act;
- As a result of the threat or use of force, the other person consented to give the defendant money or property or to do an official act;
- As a result of the threat or use of force, the other person then gave the defendant money or property or did an official act.
Threat or use of force not the reason the person consented. The victim in an extortion must have consented to do some act as a result of the defendant’s threat or use of force. For instance, it would be a crime of extortion if the female victim paid money to prevent the defendant from revealing nude photos of her. However, it would not be extortion if the victim paid the money for some other reason, such as to pay a lawful debt.
The defendant had a lawful right to make the threat. If the threat was lawful, then there is no extortion. For instance, a threat to file a cause of action for personal injury unless the alleged victim settled the claim outside of court is not extortion. In fact, this scenario is common when attorney’s make personal injury claims against insurance companies.
The threat or use of force was not accompanied by the defendant making a demand for something of value. It would be extortion to tell someone that you will report that they stole an apple unless they give you two dollars, but it would not be a crime if only the threat to report the crime was made. An example would be if Dave stole money out of the cash register. Steve saw him do it and immediately said, “I’m going to tell the boss.” In response, Dave says, “I’ll give you $100 if you don’t say anything,” and Steve agrees. This is not extortion, though Steve may be guilty of other crimes, such as conspiracy and/or misprision of a felony (helping to cover up the crime.)
There was no use of force or threat accompanying the demand for something of value. If the demand for something of value was not accompanied by the use of force or threat or there is no connection between the two, then there is not crime of extortion. An example of this situation is when Robert tells Sarah that he will release nude photographs of her. He threatens her with this on April 2nd. Two weeks later he calls her and says, you owe me $200. The prosecutor will have to prove that the demand for money was in connection with the threat to release the nude photos or Robert will not be found guilty of extortion.
Being Represented by a Knowledgeable Attorney is Crucial:
If you are charged with this crime it is crucial that you retain the services of a knowledgeable attorney as soon as possible. Extortion is a serious crime that involves elements that can lead to prison, deportation, or both, and you need competent representation and advice.
We have been successfully defending clients facing all types of criminal charges in Sonoma and Marin Counties, since 1992.
The 100 Trial Lawyers Association has recognized us as one of the best criminal defense attorneys in the country!
Please call our office today at (707) 571-8600 in our centrally located Santa Rosa office in Sonoma County or call our office in San Rafael in Marin County at (415) 492-4507 to schedule a free and confidential case evaluation.
Don’t bargain with your freedom! The right attorney makes all the difference between your freedom and incarceration!