When most people think or talk about extortion, they often assume the affected people are politicians, celebrities, and other wealthy people. However, there is no specific class or category of people who are "victims" of this offense because almost anyone can be a target in an extortion plan. Similarly, any person could land in trouble with the law for an alleged extortion case.
Generally speaking, extortion is a severe white-collar crime that can attract lengthy jail time and hefty fines upon conviction. In addition to the jail sentence and fines, a conviction for an extortion charge can ruin your professional life and reputation.
If you or your relative is a source of investigation or he/she is in legal custody for an alleged extortion charge, you could want to talk to an attorney immediately. The services of an attorney who understands the nature and severity of white-collar crimes in the eyes of the law can help obtain a desirable outcome on the alleged charge.
Our legal team at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney has significant experience in this field and is ready to help you challenge the alleged extortion case to obtain a favorable outcome. Once you contact us, our priority is to have the alleged charge you are up against dismissed or reduced to a less severe offense.
You are in the right place if you are under arrest or investigation and need immediate legal help to challenge the alleged extortion charge for a favorable outcome. Read on for a better understanding of this common white-collar crime.
Extortion Defined Under Penal Code (PC) 518
Also sometimes known as "blackmail," extortion is a severe crime under PC 518. According to this law, you commit this offense when you willingly and unlawfully use fear, threats, or intimidation to either:
- Compel another person to hand over his/her property, asset, money, or something of value
- Compel a law enforcement officer to perform an official act or refrain from performing an official act
For the sake of this law, "something of value" could include sexual favors or an image of a sexual body part. Due to the internet availability that allows you to access other people's private information, it can take a blink of an eye to land in trouble with the law for an alleged extortion charge, even if you did not intend to commit the crime.
Examples of acts that can attract extortion charges under PC 518 include (but are not limited to):
- Threatening to expose an extramarital affair of a high-ranking company director when he/she fails to pay you $5000
- Breaking into someone's dwelling and taking that person's jewelry after making him/her fear for his/her life or the life of his/her immediate family
- Borrowing a car from someone and instead of returning it to him/her as agreed, you decide to demand money as a "reward" to give him/her the car back or else he/she will lose it
Generally speaking, many situations or conducts most people assume are lawful could attract extortion charges under PC 518. Early intervention in the alleged charge by a skilled attorney is the key to obtaining a case dismissal or minimum sentence upon conviction.
What the Prosecutor Must Prove to Convict You in an Extortion Case
Due to the severity of extortion crime, most prosecutors and judges want to send an alleged perpetrator or offender to jail for the maximum time possible. However, like other criminal charges, the prosecutor presiding over your case must present adequate evidence to convince the judge or jury beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of the alleged extortion case.
That means his/her arguments must be reasonable enough to convince a standard sober person that the allegations against you are true. The purpose of this threshold of proof is to avoid wrongful convictions based on mere conjecture or suspicion.
To that end, some of the facts the prosecutor must prove at trial to convict you for the alleged PC 518 violation charge are known as elements of the crime, and they include:
- You did either of the following to the alleged "victim" or accuser:
- Threatened to injure him/her, another person or damage his/her property unlawfully
- Threatened to accuse him/her or his/her immediate family member of a punishable offense
- Threatened to expose a "secret" or information involving his/her family member
- When you did the above unlawful acts, you had a specific intent to make the person consent to give you his/her property, money or do an official act
- Due to your threats and the fear of bodily injury or death, the person did consent or agree to give you his/her property, money, or any other valuable item
- The other person did let you take his/her property or money, or he/she did perform the official act
Definition of Critical Terms in the Above Elements of the Crime in an Extortion Charge
The following terms in the above elements of the crime in an extortion charge could raise questions on their actual meaning in the eyes of the court:
Extortion is a specific intent crime, meaning the prosecutor must prove you had the motive to commit the alleged crime and the motive to achieve particular results to secure a conviction against you under PC 518.
The prosecutor could obtain a conviction against you even if you did not injure the accuser (the alleged victim), expose that person's secret or use force against him/her. What matters for a conviction under PC 518 is whether you threatened him/her.
Further, the prosecutor must prove that your threats are the controlling reason the other person had no choice but to give you his/her property. That means you will not be guilty of the alleged PC 518 violation charge if the other person consented due to other controlling reasons.
Consent means giving something to another person willingly and freely. However, for the sake of prosecution for an alleged PC 518 violation charge, it means coerced or forced consent. Forced consent means the other person was unwilling to give you their property or perform the alleged official act.
The term "official act" under PC 518 refers to an obligation or duty within the jurisdiction of the government official or accuser, meaning it is something that person could do as part of his/her duty. An example of an official act that would "count" under this statute is signing a check or document.
In the context of the alleged extortion case, a secret is any information about the accuser that is unknown to the public and could potentially ruin that person's reputation when exposed, for example, an extramarital affair.
Obtaining a Reduced Charged from the Alleged Extortion Charge
If you are in legal custody on suspicion that you are a culprit in an extortion case, your attorney can help you obtain a less severe or lighter charge with minimum penalties. Since extortion is a felony that could remain on your record for a lifetime upon conviction, an experienced attorney will focus on obtaining a misdemeanor or infraction charge through negotiation with the prosecutor.
Your attorney could manage to have the alleged extortion charge reduced by the prosecutor if he/she can point out weak areas of his/her case during the negotiation, which could happen before the arraignment hearing.
For instance, he/she can argue that you did enter another person's property unlawfully, but you did not threaten the victim or accuser or force him/her to do the alleged act. If the prosecutor finds this mitigating argument reasonable, he/she can reduce the alleged extortion charge to a lighter charge like trespass under PC 602.
Unlike an extortion charge, trespass is chargeable and punishable as a misdemeanor, which carries less severe penalties upon conviction. Apart from receiving minimum penalties, reducing a felony to a misdemeanor has several benefits, including:
- You will have higher odds of obtaining an expungement after your conviction, increasing your chances of obtaining reliable employment after serving your sentence
- You will potentially retain your eligibility for particular professional licenses, for example, a medical-related license
- You will not lose your gun rights
Generally speaking, a misdemeanor charge or conviction is less likely to be disregarded or overlooked by the community and public after serving your sentence. That is why you need to hire an experienced and dedicated attorney to help you challenge the extortion allegation you are up against for the best possible result.
Potential Punishment for the Alleged Extortion Charge Conviction Under PC 518
As stated in the previous paragraph, extortion is chargeable and punishable as a felony. A conviction for the alleged PC 518 violation charge at trial can result in the following penalties:
- Up to four (4) years in jail
- $10,000 maximum fine
Under the following circumstances, the court could decide to enhance your sentence by an additional jail time.
- The victim or accuser was incapacitated or mentally impaired
- The accuser or victim was an elderly person
- The extortion was for the benefit of a gang
If the extortion was for the benefit of a gang, a conviction could result in a strike under PC 622 (Three Strikes Law). In that case, you could end up behind bars for up to twenty-five years to life in prison if you have prior felony convictions.
If you do not have a criminal background or record, the court could grant felony probation instead of spending your sentence for an extortion charge conviction in jail. Some of the conditions and requirements the court will require you to comply with during your probation duration include the following:
- Meet with a court-appointed probation officer regularly
- Pay restitution to the victim
- Perform community service
- Agree not to violate any law
The court-appointed probation officer will supervise you during your probation to ensure your compliance with the required conditions. When you violate any of the above conditions, the officer will notify the court to decide whether to terminate, modify or reinstate your probation with the same conditions.
If the court decides to terminate your probation, you will serve your sentence behind bars for the maximum time required under PC 518. Hence, it is important to seek clarification from your attorney if you are unsure of what to do and not do during your felony probation.
Common Defenses to the Alleged PC 518 Violation Charge
While every extortion case has unique facts and circumstances, several defenses could work to your advantage for a desirable outcome on the alleged charge. Some of these defenses include:
You are a Victim of False Allegations
It is not uncommon for someone to accuse another of a crime he/she did not commit due to anger, jealousy, or vengeful reasons. Hence, it is possible to challenge the alleged charge by arguing that the allegations you are up against are untrue for the best possible result.
You Had no Intent to Commit the Alleged Extortion Offense
A specific intent crime like extortion can be difficult to prove during your charge's trial because it is about your mental intent as the defendant. If your attorney can prove with clear evidence that the alleged act was unintentional or a mistake, the court could dismiss or reduce the charge to a lighter offense.
There is Insufficient Evidence Against You
At trial, the prosecutor must have sufficient evidence to secure a conviction against you beyond a reasonable doubt. Hence, it makes sense to argue that the prosecutor's evidence is insufficient to convict you under PC 518. For instance, this defense argument could work in your favor if the prosecutor does not have any eyewitness testimony or the available testimony is unreliable.
You are the Legal Owner of the Alleged Property
If the property in question is legally yours, meaning you did not expect financial gain from it, you will not be guilty of the alleged PC 518 violation charge. However, for this argument to apply to the alleged extortion case, the court will require your attorney to prove that your actions were open or unceiled when taking the alleged property for the best possible outcome.
The Victim Did Not Perform the Act
Even if the victim consented to perform the alleged act or let you take his/her property after threatening him/her, you would not be guilty under PC 518 if the person did not perform the act. However, the prosecutor could charge you with attempted extortion, which is a wobbler, punishable as either a felony or misdemeanor, depending on your case's details.
You Did Not Threaten the Accuser or Victim
A conviction for PC 518 violation requires the prosecutor to convince the judge that you did threaten the alleged victim or perform an act of violence against him/her. That means it is a viable defense to argue that you did not threaten or use violence against the accuser to obtain a desirable judgment on the alleged extortion charge.
Common Crimes Related to Extortion Offense Under PC 518
In a criminal case, the court could consider certain crimes "related" to the alleged charge because they share similar or closely related elements, which the prosecutor must prove to obtain a conviction against you.
If the prosecutor's evidence is insufficient to convict you for the alleged PC 518 violation charge, he/she could file any of the following related charges against you:
- Criminal threats
- Grand theft
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Regarding Extortion
Most people in legal custody or under investigation for an alleged extortion charge will often ask some questions to know what they are up against and what to expect as the case continues. Some of the most common FAQs regarding extortion include (but are not limited) to the following):
- Can I be Deported Upon Conviction for an Alleged Extortion Charge Under PC 518?
Yes, since extortion "counts" or qualifies as a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT), a conviction can result in some negative immigration consequences like deportation. A CIMT is any crime that involves vile, dishonesty, or depraved behavior that is shocking to a standard and reasonable person, and extortion is one of these crimes.
- My Schoolmate Threatened to Report My Shoplifting Case to the Police if I Did Not Steal an Item for Him. Can He be Convicted Under PC 518?
Yes, although your schoolmate has the legal right to report any unlawful activity to the relevant authorities, threatening you to illegally obtain an item could qualify as extortion under PC 518. However, when he reports your case to the police, you could be charged and convicted of the alleged shoplifting offense under PC 459.5.
- Will I Qualify to Secure a Release from Jail on Bail After an Arrest for an Alleged Extortion Charge?
Yes, after an arrest as a suspect in an extortion case, you can protect your freedom as the alleged case continues by posting bail. While not all crimes could qualify a defendant to post bail after an arrest, extortion is not one of those charges.
When determining whether to provide you a release from jail on bail, the arresting police officer or the court will consider the factors listed below:
- Your criminal background
- The seriousness of the alleged extortion charge
- Your history regarding adherence to court conditions after securing a release from jail on bail
- Your family ties
- Your involvement in community activities
In some cases, the court could give you an OR (own recognizance) release, meaning you do not have to pay or post bail to obtain your freedom. While this kind of pretrial release option is rarely available in most criminal cases, a skilled attorney could convince the court you are an excellent candidate for an OR release to wait for your case's trial out of legal custody.
What to Do If You are Under Investigation for an Alleged Extortion Charge
If you have a reasonable belief that you are a source of investigation as a culprit in an extortion case, what you will do afterward can significantly affect the case's outcome. Here are helpful tips that can help you stay on the right side of the law for the best possible outcome:
Even if you are confident the allegations you are up against are untrue, it is advisable to remain silent during police questioning because proving your innocence to the officer will not help. A police officer could seem friendly with you if he/she wants to obtain incriminating information from you.
Hence, it would help to remain silent during the investigation unless the officer requires you to give him/her your name and residence information.
Take Note of the Officer's Actions Against You
An officer's behavior towards you during the investigation could be against your legal rights. If the officer attempts or uses force to compel you to confess, you should let your attorney know because it is unlawful. An unlawful act by the officer during the investigation could convince the prosecutor to drop the alleged charge.
Speak With a Defense Attorney
Retaining the services of an attorney is one of the most helpful steps to take if you are under investigation or arrest for an alleged extortion case. Your defense attorney will be your legal counsel and representative in the confusing and complex legal justice system, which is undoubtedly not on your side.
During your search for a reliable defense attorney, you should find a firm or person with the following:
- Legit and up-to-date licensing credentials
- Credible reputation and a record of success in past related cases
- Significant experience, especially on extortion charges and related white-collar crimes
- Excellent communication skills
- Cost-friendly services
Find a Defense Attorney Near Me
Hiring a defense attorney could be your only hope for obtaining the best favorable outcome on the alleged extortion charge. Our seasoned team of defense attorneys at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney can thoroughly examine the unique facts of the alleged case to provide you with favorable legal options.
If we cannot compel the prosecutor or judge to drop the alleged extortion charge, we will stop at nothing until we obtain a favorable outcome like a reduced charge or sentence. Call us at 424-333-0943 to schedule your initial cost-free consultation with our courteous and profound defense attorneys.