The offense of extortion is a crime in which the actor forces the victim to give up money or other property by using coercion or threats of violence, financial hardship, property damage, or other harm such as damage to their reputation. Extortion is a form of theft because the perpetrator unlawfully takes property from another person. It shares traits with robbery because threats are involved, but with extortion, the threats aren't immediate and can be carried out later.
For instance, a couple is going through a custody dispute and the husband threatens to expose evidence of the wife's physical abuse against him to the police, unless she drops the custody dispute. Under these circumstances, the husband's threat could constitute extortion and he could be charged with this offense in most states, including Virginia.
Virginia Extortion Laws at a Glance
The statute that details Virginia's extortion offense is easy to read compared to more complex statutes. However, it doesn't hurt to unpack the law even further using a "plain English" explanation. See the chart below for a basic overview for the extortion law in Virginia, including a link to the applicable statute.
Virginia Annotated Code Section 18.2-59
Elements of the Crime
An individual can be charged with extortion for the following actions:
- Threatening to injure another person, another person's character, or the property of another person;
- Accusing another person of any kind of offense;
- Threatening to report someone as being in the U.S. illegally; or
- Intentionally concealing, destroying, or threatening to destroy someone's passport, other immigration documentation, or any other government ID with the intent to make the other person give up something.
The types of items that can be extorted from the victim include the following:
- Property (personal or real estate);
- Evidence of a debt; or
- Other financial benefit.
Penalties and Sentencing
- Extortion is classified as a Class 5 felony; in Virginia, the offense can be either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on how the crime is charged.
- Class 5 felonies are punishable by a term of imprisonment of 1-10 years, or in the discretion of the jury or the court trying the case without a jury, a jail sentence for up to 12 months and/or a fine up to $2,500.
- Mistake of fact
- Duress or necessity
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.
Virginia Extortion Laws: Related Resources
Facing Extortion Charges? Talk to a Virginia Criminal Defense Attorney
Extortion is a crime that people should take seriously and can often be hard to identify in the normal give and take of a negotiation. If you've been accused of violating Virginia's extortion laws, then it's in your best interests to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney. An attorney can assess your case and let you know the available options.