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Extortion and Blackmail Laws

Review of PC 518 Extortion and Blackmail Laws, Penalties, and Defenses

California Penal Code 518 PC defines the crime of extortion as using force or threats to compel another person to give them money or property, or to compel a public official to perform an official act.

Another common name for extortion is “blackmail,” which could also potentially be filed as a federal crime.

Extortion is a broad term covering a wide range of unlawful conduct. Some examples of violating Penal Code 518 extortion and blackmail laws include:

Extortion and Blackmail Law in California – Penal Code 518 PC
  • a person making threats to reveal the affair of a high-ranking company officer unless they receive $10,000;
  • a person using force or threats of force against a government official to pressure them to perform a certain act;
  • a person making threats to call the police and make a crime report unless they are given some type of compensation.

Penal Code extortion is a felony offense punishable by up to 4 years in prison if convicted. 

Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are providing more detailed information below.

Definition and Related Crimes for PC 518 Extortion

Penal Code 518 PC is the statute that defines the white-collar crime of extortion:

  • “Extortion is to obtain property or other consideration from someone, with their consent, or to obtain an official act of a public officer, induced by wrongful use of force or fear, or under color of official right.”

This definition of PC 518 extortion is far-reaching, which means it is possible to violate the statute without having a specific intent to do so.

Other statutes in California that are related to Penal Code 518 include:

  • Penal Code 522 PC – extortion by signature,
  • Penal Code 524 PC – attempted extortion,
  • Penal Code 532 PC – extortion by threatening letter.

Elements of the Crime for Penal Code 518 

To be convicted for extortion under California Penal Code 518 PC, the prosecutor has to prove several different factors, which are called the “elements of the crime.”

These are listed in CALCRIM 1830 Jury Instructions. It must be shown, beyond a reasonable doubt, a defendant:

  • made threats to cause injury to the victim, another person, property, or
  • made threats to accuse someone of committing a crime, or
  • made threats to disclose a secret of the victim or family member, unless they are compensated with money or property;
  • had a specific intent to force the victim into giving compensation when the threats or force was used, or to perform an official act;
  • because of the threats, the victim consented and gave money or property.

You could still be arrested, charged, and convicted for PC 518 extortion even in a situation where there was no actual force used against the victim. The threats alone are enough for a conviction.

It should be noted that “secret” is information that is unknown to the general public that has the potential to hurt the victim's reputation to a level where they're willing to provide compensation to keep it from being exposed.

The term “official act” refers to something a government official could perform as part of their official capacity.

What are the Punishments If Convicted?

Extortion under Penal Code 518 PC is a felony offense punishable by:

  • up to 4 years in a California state prison,
  • a maximum fine of $10,000,
  • formal felony probation.

An aggravating factor that could lead to additional time in prison includes whether the victim had a mental or physical impairment.

Penalties for Extortion in California

Further, if there was gang activity connected to the extortion offenses, a felony conviction might be considered a “strike” under California's three-strikes law.

Finally, a felony conviction in California means you will lose your right to own or possess a firearm.

What are the penalties for attempted extortion? 

If you were accused of attempted extortion under California Penal Code 524 PC, then it's a “wobbler” crime that the prosecutor can file as a misdemeanor or felony.

If convicted of a misdemeanor attempted extortion crime, it's punishable by the following:

  • a maximum of one year in county jail,
  • a maximum fine of $1,000, and
  • informal probation.

If convicted of a felony attempted extortion case, it's punishable by:

  • a maximum of three years in state prison,
  • a maximum fine of $10,000, and
  • formal probation.

What are the Related California Crimes?

Penal Code 422 PC – criminal threats,

Penal Code 207/209 – kidnapping,

Penal Code 137 PC – bribery,

Penal Code 211 PC – robbery,

Penal Code 487 PC – grand theft,

Penal Code 459 PC – burglary.

What are the Defenses for Extortion Charges?

If you are facing allegations that you violated Penal Code 518 extortion laws, our criminal lawyers have a wide range of common defense strategies we can use, including:

  • no criminal intent,
  • lack of force or threats,
  • false accusation,
  • insufficient evidence.

Depending on the specific details of the case, perhaps we can make a reasonable argument you did not use coercion against the alleged victim to give you money or property.

It might be possible to show they simply misunderstood or they overly exaggerated what was said.  

False accusation

Perhaps we could make a credible challenge to the validity of the extortion charges. You may have been falsely accused by an alleged victim with other motives such as anger, revenge, or jealously.

Insufficient evidence 

In some cases, we might be able to persuade the prosecutor they do not have enough credible evidence to obtain a conviction beyond any reasonable doubt.

Maybe we prove the prosecution's witnesses or not reliable or credible and will be exposed during cross-examination.

Defenses for California Extortion Charges

If you are facing extortion charges in California, contact our experienced team of criminal defense lawyers to closely examine all the details and legal options.

We know how to defend against the most serious white-collar crimes, such as extortion.

Through negotiation with the prosecutor, we might be able to get the criminal charges reduced to a lesser offense.

Further, it might also be possible to persuade the prosecution from filing charges before court, which is known as a prefiling intervention.

Cron, Israels & Stark represent people who have been charged with a crime throughout Southern California.

We have two office locations in LA County and offer a free case evaluation by calling us at (424) 372-3112, or you can contact us online.

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