Los Angeles Extortion Defense Lawyers
Extortion (also known as blackmail) is the use of force or threats to make someone give you things (or to influence a public official’s formal duties). There are a wide variety of extortion-related charges in California, some of which have harsher penalties than others, but all of which are life-changing. Serious crimes have serious consequences.
If you are under suspicion, it is critical to get an experienced defense attorney on your side. The right lawyer can protect your rights and ensure the best possible outcome. Every case has its own facts, its own challenges, so a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney is essential to fight an extortion charge.
The Legal Definition
California Penal Code section 518 defines extortion as the use of force or threats to compel someone to give you their money, their property, or sexual favors, or to influence a public official’s official acts. One does not have to threaten violence to commit extortion.
Threatening to reveal compromising or embarrassing private information also qualifies. One does not have to follow through on their threats. What matters is that the victim does the act because of the perceived threat and that the threat was the main reason the act happened.
Examples of extortion include:
- Threatening to falsely accuse a health inspector of a crime unless they give a passing grade to a restaurant.
- Collecting a cash payment from a homeowner after threatening to set fire to the house.
- Promising to not show nude photographs of someone to their family in exchange for sexual favors.
- Threatening to report a person’s real illegal activity unless they sign a rental agreement.
- An employer sending a letter which threatens to withhold a future pay raise to an employee unless they keep quiet about witnessing fraud.
Types of Extortion
In California, there are three different types of parties capable of committing extortion: public officials, gangs, and private individuals.
- Public Officials – Extortion by a public official means using one’s position as a public official to illegally take something from someone by force or threats.
- Gangs – Extortion connected to gang activities results in harsher penalties. Some gang-related extortion can be punished under the three-strikes law.
- Private individuals – Extortion by a private individual involves obtaining money, property, or sexual favors from someone by threatening to:
- Injure someone
- Damage property
- Accuse someone of a crime (falsely or truthfully)
- Reveal confidential, private, or compromising information
- Distribute embarrassing materials such as nude photographs
- Report someone’s immigration status
Furthermore, California has separate charges for several varieties of extortion, as well as attempted, unsuccessful extortion.
Penal Code Section 522 discusses the use of extortion to coerce someone into signing a document which would transfer property, debt, etc., such as a will. Penal Code Section 523 discusses the use of extortion in a threatening letter, as well as the installation of ransomware on a computer. These acts, both coerced signatures and written threats/ransomware, are punished as if the money, services, or property had actually changed hands.
Penal Code Section 524 states that any attempts at extortion, such as where the threats are made, but the victim does not comply, can be charged as Attempted Extortion. Penalties are less severe than full extortion and, critically, Attempted Extortion is a “wobbler”, unlike successful extortion, meaning that it can be charged as a misdemeanor, which would prevent the lifelong consequences of a felony conviction.
Consequences of Conviction
Extortion is a particularly dangerous charge because extortion convictions are always felonies.
If you are convicted of extortion in California, you could receive:
- Up to 4 years in a California state prison
- A fine up to $10,000
- Felony “Formal” probation
Attempted Extortion can be punished in two manners, depending on whether it’s charged as a felony or as a misdemeanor.
Misdemeanor Attempted Extortion:
- Up to 1 year in a county jail
- A fine of up to $10,000
- Summary “Informal” or Felony “Formal” probation
Felony Attempted Extortion:
- Up to 3 years in a California state prison
- A fine of up to $10,000
- Summary “Informal” or Felony “Formal” probation
Aggravating circumstances, which can worsen sentencing, include extortion by a gang or extorting a victim who has mental or physical impairments.
What Does Prosecution Have to Prove for Extortion?
To prove a defendant is guilty of extortion under Penal Code Section 518(a), (Extortion by threatening letter/ransomware and extortion to produce a signature have slightly different elements), the prosecution most prove that:
Alternative 1A – threatening to injure or use force:
- The defendant threatened to injure or use force against a person or their property.
Alternative 1B – threatening to accuse of a crime:
- The defendant threatened to accuse another person of a crime, regardless of whether the accusations are true or not.
Alternative 1C – threatening to expose a secret:
- The defendant threatened to expose a secret about another person or to expose or connect them with a disgrace, crime, or deformity.
After proving one or more of the above options, the prosecution must also prove the following:
- When making the threat or using force, the defendant intended to use that threat or force to obtain the other person’s (forced) consent to give the defendant money, property, or to consent to an official act.
- As a result of the threat or use of force, the other person consented (under duress) to give the defendant money, property, or to do an official act.
- As a result of the threat or use of force, the other person then gave the defendant the money, property, or did an official act.
- The threat/use of force must be the controlling reason that the other person consented. If the other person consented for a different reason, then the defendant is not guilty of extortion.
- Threatening to do something that a person has a legal right to do is not a threat to commit an unlawful injury.
- The threat to do harm does not have to be inflicted by the defendant themself.
- The defendant can commit extortion if they threaten action upon the family or relatives of another person, and not that person directly.
Defense Information and General Strategies
To be convicted of extortion in Los Angeles County, the prosecutor must prove all elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Our experienced and knowledgeable attorneys are skilled in defending against extortion and its related charges, including, but not limited to:
- The Three Strikes Law, where those convicted receive a prison sentence of between 25 years to life if they have two or more prior convictions (“Strikes”) for a violent or serious felony. If extortion was committed by a gang, it may qualify as a strike.
Being charged or even connected with a crime, any crime can be terrifying. As a result, you may want to explain the situation to the police immediately when questioned. Do not do this.
If you are under investigation or charged with extortion, you are advised to remain silent and refuse to answer any questions until you have spoken with a criminal defense lawyer.
Do not talk to the police. They do not have your best interests in mind. Innocent people can be and have been convicted of crimes based on unexpected interpretations of voluntary statements made in good faith.
If you are not free to go (in handcuffs, in a police car, etc.) and the police are asking you questions, you have the right to remain silent and have your attorney present. Use it. Questions police ask you after they detain you fall under your Miranda Rights. They do not have to read you your Miranda Rights if you are not detained. Because of this, police may attempt to delay you or refuse to answer if you are free to go.
Police may ask questions that seem harmless (What is your name? Is this car yours? Where were you on this date?). Police may say they want to hear your side of the story, act like they’re your friends, insist that you aren’t a suspect, that they only want to make it easier for you.
The police are not on your side. They are professionals at making people incriminate themselves, they are allowed to lie to you, and one page of one police report can result in a criminal conviction. An experienced defense attorney can protect you from the tactics police use to bring people down.
What Will We Do for You?
- First, we will carefully review your case. Every case is unique and small details can have big consequences.
- We will identify anything that could get the charges reduced or dropped, such as the victim not following through with the act, the lack of force or threats, mistaken identity, an inability to prove that the action was primarily motivated by force or threats, or false accusations.
- We will find and highlight any mistakes or misconduct made by law enforcement, such as unlawful search and seizure, violations of Miranda Rights, lying on reports, illegal concealment of evidence they don’t like, or even procedural mistakes. They enforce the law, but we can ensure they are held accountable to it.
- We will send out our own investigators to verify or disprove official statements, talk to different people, get new stories and reports to get as full of an account as possible. A complete story is vital for a strong defense.
- We will negotiate with supervising prosecutors. The law is both procedural and personal. We see these people every day in court. We get to know them, build up professional relationships with them and learn how they work. With that knowledge, we can make better deals for our clients, including dismissal or reduction of charges.
- We will appear for you in court, ensure you meet all legal requirements, and ensure you only attend court when necessary. Many things at court do not require the presence of the defendant. Many of these hearings take place during working hours and we want to minimize the disruption to your personal and professional life.
- We will document any mitigating circumstances during the incident or in your life that paints you in a better light. Courts deal with many cases and many people. Part of our responsibility is turning our clients from merely one case of many into sympathetic, honest, and compelling stories about real people, not just names and case numbers.
- Finally, we will stay in contact with you, so that there is no doubt about your case’s status. Charges like this are difficult and stressful to deal with, and we will keep you informed and updated to make it all as manageable as possible.
If you are under investigation for or charged with extortion, do not speak with law enforcement. Contact our office so that we can help you make safe, informed decisions in your best interests.