In California, the crime of extortion (also known as “blackmail") is when force or threat is used to extract money or property from another, to compel a public officer to perform an official act, or if you are a public official, using your office to have another person give you money or property. Politicians and celebrities are the common targets. That being said, anyone can be a victim or find themselves accused of the crime of blackmail.
Being falsely accused (and/or wrongly arrested) for blackmail is a nightmare. As such, it is critical to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney. Common defenses to this charge are, you did not coerce the victim to give you money or property, falsely accused, or there is insufficient evidence to support a conviction.
Extortion by threat or force under Penal Code Section 158 consists of four “elements of the crime." The elements:
(1)The defendant threatened to injure or use force against a party or his/her property, threatened to accuse him/her (or a relative/family member) of a crime; or threatened to expose a secret involving him/her (or a relative/family ember), or connect the victim to a crime or a scandal.
(2) When making the threat or using force, the defendant intended to force the victim into consenting to give him/her money, property or do an official act;
(3) As a result of the threat, the victim consented to give the defendant money, property, or conduct an official act;
(4) And the victim actually did give the defendant money, property or performed an official act.
A defendant can be convicted of extortion if you do not actually injure or use force against the victim. All that matters is that you “threaten" to do so. There must be a demand to do a specific act (money, exchange of property, official act) and the use of “threatening words."
An injury must be “unlawful" injury. You are guilty of this crime only if you threaten to do something that you have no legal right to do. Exposing a “secret" means disclosing information unknown to the general public or to someone who may be interested in knowing the information and disclosure would harm someone’s reputation. We are all too familiar, perhaps in real life drama of politicians paying to keep their dirty “secrets" from being exposed.
Another interesting facet to this crime is that extortion could be through a letter or email pursuant to Penal Code Section 523. Defendant sent or delivered a letter to a person and threatened to injure the other person (family member) of a crime or expose a secret and intended to use the threat to obtain, money, property, or an official act.
The crime of extortion is a felony in California law punishable by 16/2/3 years in state prison, a fine of up to $10,000 and formal probation. If you only attempt to commit extortion, the victim never consented to your requests or gave you money or property. However, you can still be convicted of attempted extortion and can be filed as either a felony or a misdemeanor. Extortion is a crime that is factually driven and a good defense is required.