ARS § 13-1804 is the Arizona statute that defines the crime of theft by extortion. You commit this offense if you take or attempt to take another person’s property by threatening to do some future act (such break the “victim’s” finger).
A violation of this law can lead to a Class 2 felony charge punishable by up to 12-and-a-half years in state prison.
The language of ARS § 13-1804 lists several threats that will lead to an extortion charge. For example, a prosecutor can charge people with extortion if they take something from someone or try to take something and threaten to:
- cause physical injury or death to the “victim,”
- cause damage to property, or
- accuse someone of a crime.
- taking a person’s car after threatening to kill the driver’s spouse (who is the passenger).
- threatening to expose a person’s extramarital affair unless he/she pays $10,000.
- threatening to accuse someone of murder if they do not deed over a piece of property.
People have the right to raise a legal defense to contest extortion charges. A few common defenses include showing that:
- the accused did not make a threat,
- the defendant had a rightful claim to the property in question, and/or
- law enforcement violated the defendant’s constitutional rights.
An extortion crime is a Class 2 felony (as opposed to a misdemeanor) if the defendant committed the offense by threatening to cause physical injury or death. Otherwise, the offense is a Class 4 felony.
Under Arizona criminal laws, a Class 2 felony is punishable by custody in state prison for up to 12-and-a-half years.
A Class 4 felony is punishable by a prison term of up to three years and nine months.
In this article, our criminal defense attorneys will discuss what the law is under this statute, defenses available if charged, the penalties for a conviction, and related crimes.
1. How does Arizona law define “extortion”?
People in the State of Arizona commit theft by extortion if they steal, or try to steal, property or services by threatening to:
- kill someone or cause physical injury to someone using a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument,i
- cause physical injury or physical harm to someone by any other means,
- cause damage to someone’s property,
- commit an offense,
- accuse someone of a crime or bring criminal charges,
- expose a secret of asserted fact that would subject someone to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or the impairment of that person’s credit or business,
- take or withhold some action as a public servant,
- cause someone to part with any property, and/or
- take or withhold action regarding the right to access to an adjoining property.ii
2. Are there defenses to extortion charges brought under ARS 13-1804?
Extortion lawyers draw upon several different legal strategies/disclaimers to challenge criminal charges brought under this statute. Three common defenses include extortion attorneys showing that:
- the defendant did not threaten anyone.
- the accused had a lawful claim to the property in question.
- the police violated an accused’s constitutional rights.
2.1 No threat
People are only guilty of extortion if they steal something and make some threats. This means that perhaps the best defense to extortion charges is for defendants to show that they did not threaten anyone. Note, though, that if a defendant took something without a threat, he/she could still be guilty of theft, per ARS 13-1802.
2.2 Lawful claim
The language of ARS 13-1804 provides that, in some extortion cases, people can raise the defense that they threatened to retrieve property that they had a legal right to. Similarly, it is a defense for defendants in some situations if they made a threat to recover compensation for some lawful services that they provided.iii
As an example, consider a landscaper who provided lawful services to a homeowner. If the homeowner refuses to pay, the landscaper can threaten a lawsuit to recover compensation for the work performed.
2.3 Violation of constitutional rights
Sometimes the police will violate a person’s constitutional rights when arresting someone or investigating a case. For example, law enforcement can sometimes:
- conduct an unlawful search or seizure,
- coerce a confession, or
- stop or arrest a defendant without probable cause.
Under any of these scenarios, a judge may exclude evidence from a case or dismiss it.
3. What are the penalties?
Arizona treats extortion as a serious offense.
A criminal offense of extortion where the defendant threatened death or physical injury is a Class 2 felony. A Class 2 felony is punishable by 12-and-a-half-years in state prison.
Extortion committed by any other threat is a Class 4 felony. A first offense under this statute, as a Class 4 felony, is punishable by three years and nine months in state prison. A second or subsequent offense can lead to seven to 15 years in prison.
4. Are there similar offenses?
There are three crimes related to theft by extortion. These are:
- bribery – ARS 13-2602,
- threatening and intimidating – ARS 13-1202, and/or
- burglary – ARS 13-1507.
4.1 Bribery – ARS 13-2602
Per ARS 13-2602, bribery of a public officer is the crime where:
- a person, with corrupt intent, offers or agrees to provide any benefit upon a public servant or public officer, and
- does so with the intent to influence the public servant’s or public officer’s vote.
Note that unlike with violations of ARS 13-1804, people have to act with a corrupt intent to violate this statute. A “corrupt intent” means a defendant has to make some offering with an intent to unlawfully influence an officer.
4.2 Threatening and intimidating – ARS 13-1202
Under ARS 13-1202, threatening and intimidating is the crime where people either threaten to:
- physically injure someone,
- cause a serious public inconvenience (such as the evacuation of a building), or
- injure another person to promote a street gang, a criminal syndicate, or a racketeering enterprise.
Note that if a defendant tries to commit extortion by threatening a physical injury, but the “victim” does not hand over any property, the defendant can be charged with either:
- attempted extortion, or
- threatening and intimidating.
4.3 Burglary – ARS 13-1507
Under ARS 13-1507, 2nd-degree burglary is the crime where people unlawfully enter or remain in or on a residential structure with the intent to commit any theft or a felony.
If a person enters a residential structure with the intent to commit extortion, prosecutors can charge that person with both:
- 2nd-degree burglary, and
- See, for example, State v. Garcia, 227 Ariz. 377 (2011); and, State v. Mendoza-Tapia, 229 Ariz. 224 (2012).
- Arizona Revised Statutes 13-1804. The language of the statute reads as follows:
A. A person commits theft by extortion by knowingly obtaining or seeking to obtain property or services by means of a threat to do in the future any of the following:1. Cause physical injury to anyone by means of a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument or cause death or serious physical injury to anyone.
2. Cause physical injury to anyone except as provided in paragraph 1 of this subsection.
3. Cause damage to property.
4. Engage in other conduct constituting an offense.
5. Accuse anyone of a crime or bring criminal charges against anyone.
6. Expose a secret or an asserted fact in a social media message as defined in section 16-901 or in any other manner, whether true or false, tending to subject anyone to hatred, contempt or ridicule or to impair the person’s credit or business unless the threat is based on a plausible claim of right to the property or services obtained or sought to be obtained.
7. Take or withhold action as a public servant or cause a public servant to take or withhold action.
8. Cause anyone to part with any property.
9. Take or withhold action regarding an alleged claim of easement or other right of access to an adjoining property if both of the following occur:
(a) The claimant’s property interest is the result of a tax lien purchase or foreclosure pursuant to title 42, chapter 18.
(b) The fair market value of the claimant’s property is equal to or less than the amount paid by the claimant for the purchase of the tax lien or foreclosure, including taxes paid after the lien purchase and any costs and attorney fees paid in connection with the lien foreclosure. For the purposes of this subdivision, “fair market value” means the fair market value as defined in section 33-814, subsection A as of the date of the theft.
B. It is a defense to a prosecution under subsection A, paragraph 5, 6 or 7 of this section if a reasonable person would believe that the property or services were obtained or sought to be obtained by the threat of a reasonable accusation, exposure, lawsuit or other invocation of official action.
C. Theft by extortion is a class 4 felony, except that theft by extortion under subsection A, paragraph 1 of this section is a class 2 felony.
- A.R.S. 13-1804B.