Extortion is a property crime that includes activities more commonly known as blackmail. Under California state laws, a prosecutor may bring a charge of extortion when a defendant used a threat to obtain property from the owner. A prosecutor can also bring a charge of extortion if a defendant's threat compelled a public official to perform an official act.
Robbery vs. Extortion
California law distinguishes between the crimes of robbery and extortion. In a robbery, an individual takes the property of another, without the victim's consent, from the victim's immediate presence. In extortion, the victim gives consent due to a threat and the property can be taken from beyond the victim's immediate vicinity.
The prosecutor must show that the defendant had a specific intent to use the threat as a way to obtain the victim's consent for the taking of property or official act. A spoken threat or a written letter might reflect the defendant's intent to extort property or influence a public official to perform an official act.
The prosecutor must prove that the victim of extortion consented to the defendant's demand due to the defendant's threat. The victim must have felt fear and only given consent as a result of the defendant's threat. If the victim consented for several reasons, only one of which was the defendant's threat, it may be more difficult for the prosecutor to succeed with an extortion case.
Overview of California Extortion Laws
The following chart lays out the basics of California laws:
||California Penal Code Sections 518-527
|Threats Constituting Extortion
California law establishes four types of threats that can become the basis for extortion:
- Threat to cause an unlawful injury to the victim, the victim's property, or another person
- Threat to accuse the victim or the victim's family member of a crime
- Threat to reveal disgraceful information about the victim or impute a crime to the victim
- Threat to disclose any secret involving the victim
||Victim consented for a reason other than the defendant's threat
|Penalties and Sentences
The potential punishment for a conviction depends on whether the prosecutor charged the defendant with extortion or attempted extortion.
- Under California law, attempted extortion can result in a fine of up to $10,000, imprisonment in county jail for a term of up to one year, both a fine and imprisonment, or a sentence for imprisonment in state prison.
- A felony conviction in an extortion case may lead to a sentence of imprisonment lasting for two to four years in state prison.
Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
Learn More About California Extortion Laws from an Attorney
California extortion laws carry very serious penalties. So, if you've been charged with extortion in California, it's important to contact a local criminal defense attorney who can help assess the charges against you and help formulate a defense strategy.