California Penal Code Section 518 PC: Extortion


1. Definition and Elements of the Crime

Under California Penal Code Section 518 PC, extortion (commonly referred to as "blackmail") is a criminal offense that involves the use of force or threats to compel another person into providing money or property, or using force or threats to compel a public official to perform or neglect an official act or duty. Often, the victims of extortion feel compelled to comply due to the extortionist's threats. Extortion is a felony offense that can result in lengthy prison sentences.

In order to prove a charge of extortion by threat or force, a prosecutor must be able to establish the following elements:

  1. The defendant either:
    1. threatened to unlawfully injure another person
    2. threatened to accuse someone else of a crime
    3. threatened to expose a secret of another person
  2. When making the threat or using force, the defendant intended to use that fear or force to obtain the other person's consent, money, property, or have that other person perform an official act
  3. As a result of the threat or use of force, the other person consented to the defendant's demands
  4. AND as a result of the threat or use of force, the other person complied with the defendant’s demands

When dealing with extortion, consent can be coerced or unwilling, as long as it is given as a result of the wrongful use of force or fear. The threat must be the controlling reason that the other person consented. Threatening to do something that a person has a legal right to do is not a threat to commit an unlawful injury.

A secret is considered a fact that:

  1. Is unknown to the general public or to someone who might be interested in knowing the fact
  2. AND harms the threatened person's reputation or other interest so much that he or she would likely pay to prevent the fact from being disclosed

When the extortionate demand is in writing, the defendant can be charged with extortion by threatening letter pursuant to California Penal Code Section 523 PC. When the intent of the extortionist is to have the victim sign a document or check, the defendant can be charged with extortion of signature under California Penal Code Section 522 PC.

2. Related Offenses

Similar offenses include the following:

  1. White Collar Crimes
  2. Grand Theft - California Penal Code Section 487 PC
  3. Robbery - California Penal Code Section 211 PC
  4. Bribery - California Penal Code Section 67 PC

3. Examples

A woman is having an affair with her boss. She threatens to report him to authorities for rape unless he doubles her salary. The boss complies with her demands. The woman could be prosecuted for extortion under California Penal Code Section 518 PC. If she had made the demands in a written letter, she could be prosecuted for extortion by threatening letter under California Penal Code Section 523 PC. For this offense, the boss would not have had to comply with her demands, as the mere presentation of the extortion letter is enough to violate the law.

4. Defenses to Extortion

Because the crime of extortion is committed through statements made to others and may leave little or no physical evidence, it is an offense that is highly susceptible to false accusations. In these instances, an effective criminal defense attorney can focus on the accuser's motive for bringing the false accusation and use it to show how they are not credible.

5. Penalties

Extortion is a felony offense that is punishable by up to three years in prison. If the defendant has made extortion demands but the victim never complied or consented, he or she can be charged with attempted extortion. Attempted extortion is a "wobbler" offense that can be filed as either a felony or a misdemeanor.

6. Criminal Defense for Extortion

If you or a loved one are under investigation for extortion, or if you are a victim of extortion, it is very important that you speak with a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney right away. Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut is a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience who previously prosecuted white collar crimes as part of the Los Angeles County District Attorney's elite Major Fraud Division. Mr. Kraut is highly respected and maintains key relationships with law enforcement personnel and prosecutors in this area. Mr. Kraut is dedicated to his clients and works tirelessly to ensure they get the best representation possible.

For more information about extortion, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut at the Kraut Criminal & DUI Lawyers located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1520, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.

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