ARS 13-1804 is the Arizona statute that defines the crime of theft by extortion. People commit this offense if they take or try 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 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 Phoenix Arizona 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 by means of 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 type of threat. This means, then, 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 made a threat in order 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 in the course of 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 a case in its entirety.
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
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our attorneys provide both free consultations and legal advice you can trust.