When an American Commits Extortion
Most of us know about the crime of extortion from old films depicting the activities of the Italian-American Mafia, such asThe Godfather trilogy. In those movies, the crime was carried out by a crime family through what is known as the “protection racket.” This involves forcing individuals or merchants to pay for protective services offered by criminals against other criminals.
When One Person Extorts
Extortion, also known as shakedown, outwresting and exaction, is not limited to the purview of organized criminal groups. In fact, most complaints these days involve individuals who try to extort money from other individuals or groups. More often than not, modern attempts at extorting schemes involve monetary demands in exchange for withholding or disclosing information. Exaction is a federal offense covered under Chapter 41 of the U.S. Code. The basic elements of this crime involve a credible threat or the actual use of force as a means of intimidation. At some point, the victim must volunteer his or her consent under duress. The criminal cycle is completed when the victim transfers money or some other type of asset that is valuable to the perpetrator.
Using intimidating messages or actions to expose incriminating or discrediting information is known as blackmail. This is often perpetrated by private individuals. Blackmail does not have to be made whole in order to be charged as a criminal and punishable offense. For example, making a long distance telephone call to explain an intimidation may be enough for law enforcement to investigate. The same goes for mailed letters, text messages, email correspondence and Internet chats.
Defenses for Illegal Coercion
Criminal acts of coercion may be tried at the federal or state levels. Criminal defense attorneys can raise a number of defenses on behalf of their clients. One such defense involves the constitutional right to free speech. Using this right as a defense entails analyzing the alleged threat for credibility and the likelihood of it being carried out. In some cases, defendants explain that their own lives were in danger when they threatened others. In such cases, the burden of proof is considerably higher for the defendants.