California extortion law is contained in sections 519 through 524 of the California Penal Code. The definition of extortion is contained in Sections 518, 519 and 524: obtaining property with a person's consent or obtaining an official act of a public officer by inducement through the wrongful use of force or fear, or under color of official right. The "force or fear" must cause the consent. If there is a different primary cause of the victim's consent, it is not extortion. The "fear" may be induced by a threat to: injure someone or damage the victim's property; accuse the victim (or victim's relative) of committing a crime; reveal or expose damaging or embarrassing information about the victim (or victim's relative) or reveal or expose a secret about the victim (or victim's relative).
What are the penalties for extortion in California?
In California, extortion is charged as a felony. It is punishable by up to four years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Attempted extortion is punishable by up to two years in state prison. Extortion can be charged as a federal crime when it has been committed by mail, computer (email), telephone or any other instrument of interstate commerce.
How are extortion cases resolved?
How an extortion case is resolved often depends on the amount of money involved and the severity of the threatened action. A number of extortion cases are resolved when the extorter realizes how severe the penalties are. In most Los Angeles extortion cases, small dollar amounts are usually involved: between $5000 and $20,000. The victim just pays the money instead of reporting it to the police. When a celebrity is involved, things can get more complicated. Sometimes, the best way to deal with it is to make it go away before it gets into the media. In other cases, the celebrity may not consider the information sufficiently damaging and readily brings the extortion to the attention of the authorities and the media (e.g., when model Elle McPherson was blackmailed over some recovered nude photographs of herself).
What is the difference between extortion and blackmail?
Blackmail and extortion are regularly used interchangeably, but blackmail is a form of extortion. Extortion is obtaining something of value through threats of harmful future conduct. Blackmail is obtaining something of value in exchange for not disclosing disreputable or harmful information that will damage someone's reputation.
Why isn't selling a picture of a celebrity to a tabloid considered blackmail?
What's interesting about blackmail is that it is not a crime until you ask for money to keep the damaging material from appearing in public. In other words, if you found a Paris Hilton sex tape, you could post it on YouTube or sell it to the "National Enquirer." But if you take a sex tape from Paris Hilton's storage locker and then demand that she pay you $20,000 per month to keep you from posting the tape on YouTube -- that's blackmail.
Why you need an experienced extortion defense attorney
Very few Los Angeles extortion cases are straightforward. Many times individuals are wrongfully accused and the facts and evidence of blackmail are too ambiguous to gain an extortion conviction. If you are being investigated or have been arrested for blackmail or extortion, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as early as possible.