Extortion is a way of obtaining property, money, or services from an individual through the use of fear, intimidation, or falsely claiming the right to the property or services. Extortion differs from robbery and other theft crimes because the individual willingly gives the extortionist the property or service that is demanded without an immediate threat to the individual’s life or well being. Extortion can be carried out over the phone, through email or other electronic messaging, or in person.
Types of Extortion
Crime organizations such as the mafia are notorious for committing extortion in order to obtain money from local business owners and residents. Blackmail is a type of extortion that is used to obtain property, money, or services by threatening to release personal details about a person’s life that may compromise the individual’s reputation or position. Bribery is a type of extortion that uses the offer of something valuable in order to obtain favorable behavior, such as a lawmaker’s influence on an issue. Likewise, officials may use the promise of favorable behavior in order to obtain money or other valuable property or services from individuals.
Examples of different types of extortion that may be committed include:
- A candidate paying voters to vote a certain way
- Voters offering votes or payment to an official if the official makes changes to a law
- A person threatening to release photographs of a celebrity doing something illegal unless money is given
- A person threatening to send pictures of a husband in a compromising position to his wife unless money is given
- A person threatening to accuse another of an illegal act, such as rape, if money is not given
Florida Extortion Laws
The Hobbs Act, which was passed in 1946, clearly defines what is considered to be extortion under the United States federal law. The Act defines extortion as “the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of official right.” While states are charged with enforcing extortion laws, most states utilize this definition and prosecute extortion in similar ways.
Extortion Charges and Penalties
All states consider extortion to be a felony. Depending on the severity of the threats, duration of the extortion, and other details of the extortion charges may vary in degree. Penalties for extortion typically include prison time and fines, but may also include restitution and other penalties that directly relate to the case.
If a threat is made, but the victim does not provide the money, goods, or services, it is considered attempted extortion. Attempted extortion may be a felony or a misdemeanor charge depending on the severity of the threat. Even when attempted extortion is charged as a misdemeanor, the defendant may still face time in jail and high fines.
Extortion defenses may vary depending on the case. In some cases, the victim believes that extortion has occurred, but in actuality the perceived threat was simply a misunderstanding. Hiring a lawyer that is experienced in handling extortion cases can help defendants fight extortion charges, especially if the accusations are false.
Since extortion is usually accomplished through threats and other intangible means, it is possible to be falsely accused of extortion. False accusations of extortion are most common in cases where a long-standing partnership, such as a marriage or business, has dissolved and one partner is attempting to hurt the other partner. A criminal defense lawyer will be able to assist a defendant in finding the motive behind the false accusations and obtaining evidence to prove that the accusations are false.
In many extortion cases, the prosecution has only the victim’s testimony to prove that the threat or bribery occurred. In this case, the defendant’s testimony may be sufficient to contest the prosecution’s claims. A criminal defense attorney may also be able to assist a defendant in gathering evidence to support the defendant’s claim that extortion did not occur, or in discrediting any evidence that the prosecution may provide.
“18 U.S. Code Â§ 872 – Extortion by officers or employees of the United States.” LII / Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School, n.d. Web. 29 May 2014. <http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/872>
“Statutes & Constitution: View Statutes: Online Sunshine.” Statutes & Constitution: View Statutes: Online Sunshine. The Florida Legislature, 27 May 2014. Web. 29 May 2014. <http://www.leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0800-0899/0836/Sections/0836.05.html>