What is “sextortion” under California law?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Apr 05, 2018 | 0 Comments

“Sextortion” is a form of blackmail under Penal Code 518, California’s extortion law. California law defines “extortion” as:

  1. The act of obtaining property or other consideration from someone,
  2. With his or her consent, 
  3. By the use of force or fear.

Extortion is commonly referred to as "sextortion" when the consideration demanded involves:

  • Sexual conduct, or 
  • An image of an intimate body part, – whether uncovered or through clothing.

For purposes of California's “sextortion” law, an intimate body part is defined as:

  • Any portion of the genitals,
  • The anus, or 
  • In the case of a female, any portion of the breasts below the top of the areola.

What is the punishment for "sextortion" in California?

When committed by someone 18 or over, sextortion is a felony in California. It can be punished by:

  • Two (2), three (3) or four (4) years in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to $10,000.

Attempted sextortion is a California “wobbler” offense. It can be punished as either a felony or a misdemeanor, in the prosecutor's discretion.

As a felony, attempted extortion carries potential penalties of:

  • 16 months, two (2) years, or three (3) years in state prison, and/or
  • A fine of up to $10,000.

As a misdemeanor, possible consequences of attempted extortion include up to one (1) year in county jail.

Note that while California's law on extortion applies generally to both minors and adults, only adults age 18 and over can be guilty of sextortion.

Penal Code 518 expressly excludes from the definition of extortion consideration consisting of sexual conduct or an intimate images obtained by anyone under 18 years of age.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

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, Court TV, 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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