California “Extortion” Laws – Penal Code 518 PC

In California, extortion is codified under penal code 518 pc.[1] It’s popularly known as “blackmail,” consisting of obtaining property or an official act of a police officer, from another with that person’s consent, induced by a wrongful use of force or fear or under color of official right. It differs from robbery in that the property is obtained with the purported victim’s consent. Common examples of extortion include an attorney threatening a client with a prison term to induce the client to give attorney $5,000 or obtaining money from someone after you’ve threatened criminal prosecution.

Extortion can occur in two different ways. You can verbally extort someone by threat or force, or it can be completed by means of sending a threatening letter. Sending a threatening letter is charged under penal code 523 pc.[2] A threat can include anyone of the following:

  • Threatening to expose a secret;
  • Threaten to commit injury or force;
  • Accuse another of a crime.

Elements for the Crime of Extortion

PC 518 requires the prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. You threatened to unlawfully injure or use force against another person or third period or property of another or third person.

    OR

  2. You threatened to accuse another person or that person’s relative or family member of a crime.

    OR

  3. You threatened to expose a secret about another person, or that persons relative or family member, or to expose or connect (him/her/any of them) with a disgrace, or crime, or deformity;

AND

  1. You intended to use that fear or force to obtain the other person’s consent to give the defendant money (or property), or to do an official act;
  2. The person consented to give you money or property or to do an official act;
  3. The person then gave you money or property or did an official act.

What is the Punishment for Extortion?

Penal code 518 is a straight felony punishable up to 4 years in the state prison carrying a fine up $10,000. Additionally sentencing enhancement may apply if the extortion was carried out against a senior citizen, was done in connection with criminal street gang activity, or the purported victim suffers from any mental or physical disabilities.

Legal Defenses to Extortion – PC 518

Specific Intent: Extortion does not require taking money or property from the immediate presence of your accuser, or taking it against their will. It however, does require the specific intent to induce your accuser to consent to parting with property.[3]

Fabrication: It is not uncommon for these charges to be a product of fabricated evidence. This may include “he said she said” evidence; text “spoofing”; or an email or letter that is completely taken out of context.

Causation: Fear must be the controlling cause – it is not sufficient to prove a threat and fear as one factor in inducing payment or an official act. If fear was induced by the threat only in part, then the prosecution must prove that ‘part of the reason’ must be so material it is the moving or operative cause which produces the consent to part with the property.[4]

Consent: You should not be convicted of extortion if the purported victim consented to turn over property or committed an official acts irrespective or for some other reason other than a threat.

Contact Us to Schedule a Free Consultation

If you’ve been arrested, charged, or are under investigation for extortion under penal code 518, 522, or 523 pc, then contact an experienced Orange County criminal defense lawyer at the Law Offices of John D. Rogers. Call us today to schedule a free confidential consultation concerning your rights and defenses.

Related Offenses

 

Legal References:

[1] (a) Extortion is the obtaining of property or other consideration from another, with his or her consent, or the obtaining of an official act of a public officer, induced by a wrongful use of force or fear, or under color of official right.

(b) For purposes of this chapter, “consideration” means anything of value, including sexual conduct as defined in subdivision (b) of Section 311.3, or an image of an intimate body part as defined in subparagraph (C) of paragraph (4) of subdivision (j) of Section 647.

(c) Notwithstanding subdivision (a), this section does not apply to a person under 18 years of age who has obtained consideration consisting of sexual conduct or an image of an intimate body part.

[2] Penal Code 523 defined (“Every person who, with intent to extort any money or other property from another, sends or delivers to any person any letter or other writing, whether subscribed or not, expressing or implying, or adapted to imply, any threat such as is specified in Section 519, is punishable in the same manner as if such money or property were actually obtained by means of such threat.”)

[3] See People v. Torres (1995) 33 Cal.App.4th 37, 50 [crime compared to robbery: extortion does not require taking from immediate presence of victim, or taking against victim’s will; it does require specific intent to induce victim to consent to parting with property].

[4] People v. Beggs (1918) 178 Cal. 79, 87 [fear must be operating or controlling cause that produced consent]; People v. Turner (1937) 22 Cal.App.2d 186, 188; CALJIC, No. 14.73 [Extortion-Causal Relation Between Fear and Consent].