Threatening someone to get money or something of value may be criminal extortion. This could involve organized criminals demanding protection money, or threatening to release explicit photos if someone does not pay up. Extortion is a felony offense in California with penalties including jail time and fines.
Extortion in California
Under California Penal Code PC §518, “extortion is the obtaining of property from another, with his 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.”
Fear or Force
Fear can include fear of physical harm to an individual, their family, or even a family pet. Fear can also include threatening to do some action that would be harmful or damaging to a person's job or reputation, such as exposing explicit photos or an affair.
Under California Penal Code PC §519, “fear, such as will constitute extortion, may be induced by a threat of any of the following:
- To do an unlawful injury to the person or property of the individual threatened or of a third person.
- To accuse the individual threatened, or a relative of his or her, or a member of his or her family, of a crime.
- To expose, or to impute to him, her, or them a deformity, disgrace, or crime.
- To expose a secret affecting him, her, or them.
- To report his, her, or their immigration status or suspected immigration status.”
Making Threats in Writing
Making threats to extort money does not require face-to-face threats or use of force. Under California Penal Code PC §523, “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.”
Cyber Threats and “Ransomware”
Computers are increasingly being used to target individuals for blackmail or extortion. Computers allow individuals to anonymously make threats to get money without the victim even knowing who is on the other end.
In 2017, California enacted a law targeting computer-based extortion.Under California Penal Code PC §523(b), it is criminal extortion to introduce ransomware into any computer with the intent to extort money or anything of value from another.
“Ransomware” means a computer virus or lock placed or onto a computer, computer system, or computer network that restricts access by an authorized person for the purposes of demanding payment of money or other consideration to remove the computer virus, restore access to the computer, computer system, computer network, or data, or otherwise remediate the impact of the computer contaminant or lock.
Penalties for Extortion in California
Extortion in California is a felony offense. Under California Penal Code PC §520, a conviction for extortion can result in imprisonment for 2, 3, or 4 years, and a substantial fine.
Under California Penal Code PC §524, attempted extortion is punishable by imprisonment for up to one year and a fine of up to $10,000.
Extortion by Government Officials
Extortion may also involve government officials trying to use their public office to gain money or anything else of value. This may include soliciting bribes to approve a building project or threatening to report someone if they do not do something.
Under California Penal Code PC §521, “every person who commits any extortion under color of official right, in cases for which a different punishment is not prescribed in this Code, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
Extortion by Signing Away Rights
Extortion does not always require demanding money, it could involve threatening a person to sign away property or sign away their rights.
Under California Penal Code PC §522, “every person who, by any extortionate means, obtains from another his signature to any paper or instrument, whereby, if such signature were freely given, any property would be transferred, or any debt, demand, charge, or right of action created, is punishable in the same manner as if the actual delivery of such debt, demand, charge, or right of action were obtained.”
Extortion of the Elderly
Criminal sentencing involves the court reviewing aggravating and mitigating factors. Mitigating factors weigh in favor of the defendant and can lead to reduced sentencing. Aggravating factors weigh against the defendant and can increase the criminal sentence or add additional penalties.
Under California Penal Code PC §525, it is an aggravating factor if the victim of extortion was an elder or dependent person. An elder is any person who is 65 years of age or older. A dependent adult is any person who has physical or mental limitations which restrict his or her ability to carry out normal activities or protect his or her rights.
Extortion Through a Fake Court Order
Many people are convinced to hand over money when they are threatened with jail or some other penalty. Commonly, this involves claiming an individual has a warrant out for their arrest for failing to show up for jury duty, and they have to pay a fine or they will face going to jail. It is criminal extortion to use a fake court order to obtain anything of value from another.
Under California Penal Code PC §526, extortion includes obtaining money from another person by delivering “any paper, document, or written, typed or printed form purporting to be an order or other process of a court.”
Extortion through using a fake court order is a misdemeanor. However, it is a separate offense for each separate delivery of a false document, which could result in multiple charges. Selling or offering fake court documents is also a misdemeanor.
East Bay Criminal Defense Attorney
Lynn Gorelick has more than 30 years of criminal defense experience defending her clients facing criminal threat and assault charges. She understands how to approach the individual facts of each case for the greatest chance of success, keeping her clients out of jail and keeping a clean record. Whether you are arrested in Oakland, Richmond or anywhere else in Contra Costa County or Alameda County, contact Lynn Gorelick.