Extortion Laws in California - Penal Code 518 PC
Extortion, commonly referred to as blackmail, is often confused with robbery or corruption. Extortion is a different crime with different penalties and it is important to obtain an experienced California criminal defense attorney to help you if you are facing charges if extortion. Our Los Angeles federal criminal attorneys have handled many cases involving extortion and have seen great results.
California Penal Code 518 defines extortion is the obtaining of property from another, with 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 by use of fear or threat.
The punishment for extortion depends on whether force was used in extorting money or other property. Where force or threat was used, punishment is in the state prison for 2 to 4 years.
Extortion Using Force or Fear
Obviously, most people realize that extortion is a very serious crime and you're probably facing prison time if you're convicted of extortion. Usually these plots have to do with trying to gain some sort of money or property or advantage in something by force or fear.
Really, the best way to evaluate an extortion case is to look at the jury instruction because that's exactly what the prosecutors would need to prove the case against you.
CALCRIM 1830 defines extortion by threat or force. It's a jury instruction that was set-up by the Judicial Counsel in the latest one, I believe, in 2017.
Jury Instructions for Extortion
That's really all of the judges getting together or some judges getting together and deciding when the jury goes back to deliberate in an extortion case in one of the courtrooms in Los Angeles County, what are we going to give them to look at as far as the law goes? And that's the CALCRIM jury instruction which basically says:
That defendant is charged (whatever Count it is) with extortion on violation of Penal Code Section 518. That's the Penal Code they use to prosecute somebody for extortion. To prove that the defendant is guilty of the crime of extortion the people must prove the following: The people are the people of the State of California — the prosecutors who prosecute crimes in Los Angeles.
- The defendant threatened to unlawfully injure or use force against another person or third-party or the property of another person or third-party.
So, that pretty much defines a number of different ways an extortion can come up. It's not just one way. It's not just the way that you might think. There's different ways that it can come up, and then they give an alternative to number one, which is:
- The defendant threatened to accuse another person or that person's relative or family member of a crime.
And it goes on to basically talk about the person's relative. So really, this jury instruction is a little bit murky. Number two says:
- When making a threat or using force the defendant intended to use that fear or force to obtain the other person's consent to give the defendant the money or property or to do an official act.
A lot of times government officials are being bribed or extorted to do something because somebody has some information on them. A lot of times I see this come up where somebody has some dirt on somebody and they say listen, I know that you cheated on your wife.
I've got proof. I've got video. I'm gonna send the information to your wife if you don't pay me X amount of dollars. That would amount to extortion. The third element is:
- 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 unlawful act.
And then finally, number four talks about:
- 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.
Consent for Extortion can be Coerced or Unwilling
And when you talk about the term consent, it has a special meaning. Consent for extortion can be coerced or unwilling as long as it is given as a result of the wrongful use of force or fear.
Also, the jury instruction talks about the threat or use of force must be the controlling reason that the other person consented. If the person consented because of some other controlling reason, the defendant is not guilty of extortion.
So, now you start to talk about defenses to extortion built right into the jury instruction; built right into the law, where somebody does something they were going to do anyway or they do it for some other controlling reason, then you've got an argument.
Even though I might have said something or done something to try to coerce them or get their consent, they did it anyways and they were going to do it anyways. So, that's a potential defense to an extortion crime.
Another area that I see extortion coming up in Los Angeles is when two parties have a civil dispute. One party wants to try to get an advantage because let's say they don't want to pay money or they don't want to do something, or they want to get an advantage in the civil suit, so what they do is they go to the police and claim that the other party extorted them in some way.
Obviously, this is a problem. This is a potential defensible case because you cannot use law enforcement, the legal process, the criminal system in order to get an advantage over somebody else in a civil dispute. It actually has to be a legitimate threat and the person trying to use some sort of force of ear against you to gain an advantage over you.
If they can prove that, then you're in a position where you're going to be charged.
There's a lot of stuff going on right now in 2019 — there's a case pending right now where somebody who's a celebrity is threatening a big company for millions of dollars. You cannot do this.
If they can prove that you're threatening in any way — even economic threats — and you're trying to gain an advantage, this is going to put you in a real bad position and you're going to be looking at facing prison time.
You can be charged federally. You could be charged at the state level. You can be ordered to stay away from the person, not talk to the person. A protective order can be put in place and you could lose a lot rights. You don't want a felony on your record.
Lawyer Who Can Guide You Through The Criminal Process
So, when there extortion cases come up, the best thing to do is keep your mouth shut; don't talk to anybody on the phone about it. Get to a seasoned criminal defense attorney fast. Let that attorney advise you and guide through the system after they hear everything you have to say about it.
I get you in here and we talk about it and then we get a game plan together and you follow the game plan so you don't further get yourself into any problems.
If you are facing extortion charges, contact the Hedding Law Firm for a free case consultation.