Penal Code § 524 PC defines the California crime of attempted extortion, which is where you attempt by means of threats to extort property or money from another person. If you succeed in obtaining the property or money, then you are liable for the crime of actual extortion.
The language of the code section reads as follows:
524. Every person who attempts, by means of any threat, such as is specified in Section 519 of this code, to extort property or other consideration from another is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not longer than one year or in the state prison or by fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or by both such fine and imprisonment.
Examples of Attempted Extortion
- threatening to tell a lover’s spouse of an extramarital affair unless they pay you $10,000 (but they do not pay the money).
- warning a person that their sibling is in danger if the person does not hand over a deed to property (but they do not hand it over).
- threatening someone to disclose a secret to the media unless they pay you cash (but they do not pay any money).
In our experience, three effective ways to fight attempted extortion charges include showing that:
A misdemeanor conviction of attempted extortion is punishable by imprisonment in county jail for up to one year.
A felony conviction is punishable by a prison term of up to three years.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will address the following in this article:
- 1. How does California law define “attempted extortion”?
- 2. Are there legal defenses?
- 3. What are the penalties for Penal Code 524 PC?
- 4. Can I get a conviction expunged?
- 5. Are there any related crimes?
1. How does California law define “attempted extortion”?
A prosecutor must prove the following elements of the crime to successfully convict you of attempted extortion in California:
- you made an attempt to extort property or money from another person,
- the attempt was made by means of any threat,1 and
- you acted with the intent to commit extortion.2
To qualify as an attempt, there has to be more than just thoughts or preparation: You must take a direct step such as sending a threatening email. The threat made can include a threat to harm:
- a person directly, or
- some other third person (such as a family member).3
The prosecutor does not have to prove that the person you were allegedly trying to extort felt threatened or fearful. Nor does the prosecutor have to show that there was any wrongful use of force or obtaining of property.
If you are successful in extorting something of value, then prosecutors would instead press charges for extortion under PC 518 rather than attempted extortion under PC 524.4
2. Are there legal defenses?
Here at Shouse Law Group, we have represented literally thousands of people accused of theft crimes such as attempted extortion. In our experience, these three defense are very persuasive with prosecutors, judges, and juries:
- You did not threaten anyone.
- You were falsely accused.
- Police entrapped you.
In any case, we would try to reach out to the prosecutors right after your arrest to engage in what is called “pre-file negotiations.” If we can show prosecutors that their case is too weak to sustain a conviction, they may choose to drop the case as a “DA reject” and not press criminal charges at all.
2.1 You did not threaten anyone
You are guilty under PC 524 only if you attempt to extort property or money by means of threats. Therefore we would compile all the evidence available to show that you did not threaten anyone.
Typical evidence we rely on includes video surveillance video, eyewitness accounts, and recorded communications such as emails, texts, and voicemails. If the D.A. has insufficient evidence to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the charge should be dismissed.
2.2 You were falsely accused
Perhaps the alleged victim falsely accused you out of jealousy, anger, revenge, or a genuine misunderstanding. In these cases, we would impeach their credibility by revealing their motivations to lie and showing how their accusations are inconsistent with past statements they made.
2.3 Police entrapped you
You are the victim of police entrapment if the officer unduly pressured you into committing an attempted extortion that you were not predisposed to commit. As long as we can show that you would not have carried out the crime but for the police’s intervention, the charge should be dropped.
Here, we would rely on the police’s own body-cam footage and audio recordings to show that the officer crossed the line from legal trickery into illegal entrapment.
3. What are the penalties for Penal Code 524 PC?
Attempted extortion is a wobbler offense, which means California prosecutors can charge it as either a misdemeanor or a felony offense.
A misdemeanor attempted extortion conviction is punishable by:
- custody in county jail for up to 1 year and/or $10,000 in fines; or
- summary probation.5
A felony attempted extortion conviction is punishable by:
4. Can I get a conviction expunged?
If you are convicted of attempted extortion, you can get the conviction expunged per Penal Code 1203.4 PC once you successfully complete:
- your jail term, or
- probation (whichever was imposed).
5. Are there any related crimes?
There are three criminal offenses related to attempted extortion. These are:
- extortion – PC 518,
- extortion by fake court order – PC 526, and
- attempted crimes – PC 664.
5.1 Extortion – PC 518
Penal Code 518 PC is the California statute that defines the crime of extortion (also sometimes referred to as blackmail).
You commit this offense when you use means of force or threats to compel another person to hand over money or property.
Unlike attempted extortion, you must actually receive money or property to be guilty of this crime.
5.2 Extortion by fake court order – PC 526
Penal Code 526 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime to commit extortion, or blackmail, by means of a fake court order.
If you attempt to commit this crime but fail in receiving anything of value, you are guilty of attempted extortion by means of a fake court order.
5.3 Attempted crimes – PC 664
Penal Code 664 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime to attempt to commit a criminal act. With PC 524, you try to commit extortion but do not succeed.
- California Penal Code 524 PC. See also People v. Toledano (2019) 36 Cal.App.5th 715. See also CALCRIM 1830. See also People v. Hesslink (1985) 167 Cal.App.3d 781; People v. Baker (1978) 88 Cal.App.3d 115; People v. Cadman (1881) 57 Cal. 562; People v. Kozlowski (2002) 96 Cal.App.4th 853; People v. Goodman (1958) 159 Cal.App.2d 54, 323 P.2d 1206; People v. Peck (1919) 43 Cal.App. 638, 185 P. 881; People v. Mayfield (1997) 14 Cal.4th 668, 928 P.2d 485; People v. Norris (1985) 40 Cal.3d 51, 706 P.2d 1141; People v. Schmitz (1908) 7 Cal.App. 330, 94 P. 407; People v. Beggs (1918) 178 Cal. 79, 83-172 P. 152; People v. Sales (2004) 116 Cal.App.4th 741; People v. Franquelin (1952) 109 Cal.App.2d 777, 241 P.2d 651; Isaac v. Superior Court (1978) 79 Cal.App.3d 260; People v. Serrano (1992) 11 Cal.App.4th 1672.
- People v. Ochoa (2016 DjDAR 9203).
- People v. Hopkins (1951) 105 Cal.App.2d 708.
- See California Penal Code 518 PC.
- California Penal Code section 524 PC.
- See same. See also California Penal Code 1170h PC.