Every crime in California is defined by a specific code section. Our attorneys explain the law, penalties and best defense strategies for every major crime in California.
Yes, blackmail can be a criminal offense. This is the crime of threatening to release certain private information, unless the victim meets specific demands.
In many states, blackmail falls under the laws of
This offense is generally a felony that can carry over a year in prison for a conviction.
Generally, blackmail is the crime of threatening to release certain information, in order to coerce another person into taking a specific action. In this way, it is a crime of extortion.
For example, extortion defendants can be accused of threatening to:
The threatened conduct, however, will not be performed if the victim does what the defendant wants. Usually, defendants demand money. However, defendants can also demand that someone take a specific action or refrain from doing something. It can also include sexual favors in some states.
For example: Larry sends a text message to his boss. Larry tells his boss that, if he does not get a promotion, then he will tell everyone about the boss’ workplace romance.
While this is the general rule, each state has its own blackmail law. In many states, blackmail falls under a general extortion statute.1 Under some states’ criminal law, there is a specific blackmail statute.2 The differences between these state laws can be significant.
Two particularly important differences between states are:
In California, for example, blackmail is a form of extortion. There are 5 kinds of extortion in California, based on the type of threat being made:
Extortion by force or fear is the most general of these criminal offenses. To prove this type of offense, law enforcement in California have to show the following elements of the crime:
Note that, for the defendant to be liable for extortion in California, the victim has to actually comply with the defendant’s demands. If the victim refuses, it is not extortion. However, it can still be attempted extortion.
The federal law against blackmail, known as the Hobbs Act, is similar to California’s.4 However, it also requires proof that the defendants obtained property from the victim.5 This means that defendants are not liable for extortion under the federal Hobbs Act if they threatened the victim and the victim complied with those threats under duress, but the defendant did not actually receive anything.6
In Washington state, blackmail also falls under the offense of extortion.7 However, the offense covers both successful and unsuccessful extortion attempts.8 Defendants in Washington can be liable for extortion and blackmail, even if the victim does not do what the defendant wants.
Extortion and blackmail are very similar. Many states prohibit blackmail in statutes that target extortion. The difference between extortion and blackmail is that
Because the substance of these threats is so similar, many states have criminal laws that cover both at the same time.
Different states penalize blackmail differently. However, it is generally a felony, rather than a misdemeanor.
In California, blackmail is a form of extortion by force or fear. This type of extortion is a felony offense that carries up to:
Violations of the federal Hobbs Act can carry up to 20 years in federal prison.10 Additionally, an extortion conviction can be used as a predicate offense for other criminal statutes, most notably the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
In Colorado, blackmail falls under the state’s criminal extortion law. Convictions for blackmail carry between 2 and 6 years in prison.11
A criminal defense attorney can help defendants facing charges for a serious crime of blackmail by raising any of the following legal defenses:
Getting the legal advice of a criminal defense lawyer from a reputable law firm is the best way to fight these criminal charges.
It is not a defense to say that the information is true. Defendants who threatened to expose factually correct information can still be liable as a form of blackmail.12
The reason for this is simple: If it were allowed to be a defense, then anyone with a blemish in their past would be constantly subjected to a blackmailer’s attempts to obtain personal property.
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.
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