The Nevada crime of extortion occurs when a person deliberately threatens someone else's health, property or reputation in order to gain money or influence. Extortion is the legal term for "blackmail."
- 1 - 10 years in Nevada State Prison and/or
- up to $10,000 in fines
It may be possible to get the charges plea bargained down to a lesser offense or possibly a dismissal. Potential defense strategies include:
- there was no criminal intent,
- the defendant made a legitimate offer, or
- the defendant was falsely accused
In this article, our Las Vegas Nevada criminal defense attorneys discuss the following extortion topics:
- 1. Definition
- 2. Penalties
- 3. Defenses
- 4. Sealing records
- 5. Immigration consequences
- 6. Related offenses
Extortion is another word for blackmail. The classic extortion scenario is threatening to reveal a scandalous secret about someone unless that person pays for silence.
Extortion has two "elements" that prosecutors have the burden to prove. The first element is that the defendant has the intent to either:
- gain money or property,
- influence a public officer (such as a judge or congressman), or
- do any wrongful act
The second element is that the defendant makes a threat to either:
- accuse a person of a crime,
- injure a person or property,
- publish untruths about a person ("libel"), or
- expose any scandal or secret.1
Extortion is therefore a very broad crime that may apply to any situation where a person wrongfully threatens another person to try to obtain something of value. A recent example of blackmail was when a former television producer threatened David Letterman to sell a screenplay detailing his sexual infidelity unless David Letterman paid him two million dollars.2
1.1. Extortion versus bribery versus robbery
Extortion is different from bribery and robbery:
As discussed above, extortion is when Person A threatens Person B in order to make B do something for A or give A money.
In contrast, the Nevada crime of bribery is when Person A offers Person B something of value to persuade B to do something for A in return.3
And the Nevada crime of robbery occurs when Person A takes property from Person B by force or threats of injury.4
Extortion: John threatens to burn down Joe's house unless Joe pays John money.
Bribery: John offers Joe a thousand dollars if Joe will vote for John in an election.
Robbery: John holds up Joe with a gun and takes Joe's wallet.
1.2. Federal extortion laws
Blackmail is a federal crime as well as a Nevada state crime. When an extortion case allegedly involves interstate communications, prosecutors may bring criminal charges in Nevada federal court instead of state court.5
As a category B felony in Nevada, blackmail carries a punishment of:
- one to ten (1 - 10) years in prison, and/or
- up to $10,000 in fines, and
- restitution (if any)6
Note that the maximum prison term is reduced to six (6) years in cases involving "extortionate collection for debt." This is when someone causes a debtor to reasonably fear that not repaying their debt could cause either:
- physical injury to him/herself,
- physical injury to another person, or
- damage to his/her property.7
Meanwhile, defendants convicted of extortion in federal court face up to two (2) years in Federal Prison and/or a fine.8
Which defenses are most effective in a blackmail case depend on the specific facts. The following are some of the more common defense strategies:
- No intent.
- No extortion.
- False accusations
It is not a defense to blackmail charges that the victim did not end up getting hurt.
3.1. The defendant had no criminal intent
Extortion is an intent crime in Nevada. Therefore, defendants are innocent if the prosecution fails to prove that they intentionally threatened someone in order to obtain something of value.9
Intent can be difficult for the D.A. to show because there is no foolproof way to read a defendant's mind. Typical evidence in these cases involve:
- communications by the defendant (such as text messages),
- eyewitnesses to the alleged blackmail, and/or
- surveillance video of the alleged blackmail
3.2. The defendant made a legitimate offer
As discussed above in section 1, extortion covers a wide variety of behaviors. Therefore, police and prosecutors sometimes mistake a legitimate contractual offer for something criminal.
Example: Jake is late on his car payments. The purchase contract says that the car dealer may take Jake's car away if he does not pay. When the car dealer calls Jake and threatens to take his car away unless Jake pays, Jake claims the car dealer is blackmailing him. But in reality, the car dealer committed no crime. Jake contractually agreed to the consequences of not paying, which is the car dealer reclaiming the car.
As long as the state cannot show that the defendant's actions rose to the level of blackmail, the charges should be dismissed.
3.3. The defendant was falsely accused
Angry, vengeful or misguided people have been known to falsely accuse other people of crimes. Police are supposed to investigate complaints before placing anyone under arrest, but sometimes they act prematurely and book innocent people.
No judge or jury may convict someone of any crime unless they believe the prosecution proved guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the defense attorney can show that the defendant was the victim of false accusations, then the criminal charge should be dropped.
The waiting period to get an extortion conviction sealed from a person's criminal record is five (5) years after the case ends.10 But there is no waiting period to pursue a seal if the extortion charge gets dismissed.11
The record seal process itself takes several weeks and a host of paperwork. Learn more about sealing criminal records in Nevada.
Extortion may be considered a crime involving moral turpitude.12 Depending on the case, crimes of moral turpitude may be deportable.
Therefore, non-citizens who are facing extortion charges in Nevada are encouraged to retain experienced legal counsel. A good attorney may be able to persuade the prosecutor to get the charges dismissed or reduced to a non-removable offense. Learn more about the criminal defense of immigrants in Nevada.
The Nevada crime of libel is when someone intentionally publishes lies about someone else that cast the victim in a negative light. Libel is a gross misdemeanor in Nevada, carrying up to 364 days in jail and/or up to $2,000 in fines.13
6.2. Gang crimes
Judges impose an extra sentence on defendants convicted of gang-related felonies. However, this additional sentence may be no longer than the underlying sentence and cannot exceed 20 years. Learn more about Nevada gang crimes.14
The Nevada crime of racketeering is activity that is conducted in furtherance of an unlawful business. Many racketeering cases involve blackmail. As a category B felony, racketeering carries five to twenty (5 - 20) years in prison and high fines.15
The Nevada crime of coercion is when a person uses intimidation, deprivation, or force to get someone to do something they are not legally obligated to do. It can be a misdemeanor or a felony.16
Call a Nevada criminal defense attorney...
If you have been arrested for the Nevada crime of extortion under NRS 205.320, please call our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys at 702-DEFENSE for a free consultation. Our goal is to try to get your charges reduced or dismissed, and if you wish we will take your case all the way to trial as well.
Arrested in California? Go to our page on California extortion law.
Arrested in Colorado? Go to our page on Colorado extortion law.
NRS 205.320. Threats.
A person who, with the intent to extort or gain any money or other property or to compel or induce another to make, subscribe, execute, alter or destroy any valuable security or instrument or writing affecting or intended to affect any cause of action or defense, or any property, or to influence the action of any public officer, or to do or abet or procure any illegal or wrongful act, whether or not the purpose is accomplished, threatens directly or indirectly:
1. To accuse any person of a crime;
2. To injure a person or property;
3. To publish or connive at publishing any libel;
4. To expose or impute to any person any deformity or disgrace; or
5. To expose any secret,
-> is guilty of a category B felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 1 year and a maximum term of not more than 10 years, or by a fine of not more than $10,000, or by both fine and imprisonment. In addition to any other penalty, the court shall order the person to pay restitution.
- Michael S. James, Lindsay Goldwert, David Letterman Reveals Extortion Plot and Confesses to Sex With Staffers, ABCNews (Oct. 1, 2009).
See Eckert v. Tansy, 936 F.2d 444, 450 (9th Cir., 1991)("Nevada's robbery statute requires the actual taking "by force, violence, or fear of injury" of another's property. Nev. Rev. Stat. § 200.380 (1989). Extortion, on the other hand, requires proof of either an indirect or a direct threat. Nev. Rev. Stat. § 205.320 (1989). Each offense requires proof of an additional fact which the other does not. See Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299, 304, 52 S. Ct. 180, 182, 76 L. Ed. 306 (1932). The two are separate crimes and separate sentences may be imposed for each violation."); NRS 200.380.
- See, e.g., NRS 207.295.
- 18 U.S.C. 875(d).
- NRS 205.320.
NRS 205.322. Extortionate collection of debt.
A person who causes a debtor to have a reasonable apprehension that a delay in repaying the debt could result in the use of violence or other criminal means to:
1. Harm physically the debtor or any other person; or
2. Damage any property belonging to or in the custody of the debtor,
-> is guilty of extortionate collection of debt which is a category B felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 1 year and a maximum term of not more than 6 years, and may be further punished by a fine of not more than $10,000. In addition to any other penalty, the court shall order the person to pay restitution.
- 18 U.S.C. 875(d).
Ex parte Esden, 55 Nev. 169, 28 P.2d 132 (1934)("An essential ingredient of the crime of blackmail as defined by the statute is the intent to extort or gain money or property, or to accomplish any of the other things mentioned, by any of the means enumerated therein. The intent to do so is the gist of the offense. The information does not expressly state this essential element, but if it contains words conveying the same meaning, it is sufficient.").
- NRS 179.245.
- NRS 179.255.
- 8 U.S.C. § 1227.
- NRS 200.510.
- NRS 193.168.
- NRS 207.400.
- NRS 207.190.