Extortion is a federal-level crime that occurs whenever an individual uses threats or force to obtain money. Blackmail is a common type of extortion that happens when someone threatens to publicly embarrass someone or use incriminating evidence against them unless they comply with certain wishes. There are various sections within the U.S. Code that deal with extortion in its various forms, as it can involve a number of different scenarios. Actually obtaining money or property is not required in order for extortion charges to be brought.
Possible Penalties for Extortion Convictions
The maximum sentence for extortion charges can be as much as 35 years in federal prison. A number of factors go into determining the sentence aside from the particular code that was violated. Some of these factors include:
- Whether or not threat was carried out while holding a deadly weapon
- Amount of money or property extorted
- Having previous convictions for extortion
- Nature of other charges surrounding the event, if any
Extortion charges naturally bring about allegations of ties to organized crime. As a result, the accused could find himself being alienated by others out of fear.
Possible Extortion Defenses
Individuals can sometimes be wrongly accused of blackmail or extortion because they are “whistleblowers.” A whistleblower will sometimes threaten a corrupt public official, saying they will expose the official’s illegal behavior if it does not stop. They may then find themselves the target of an investigation. Criminal cases involving blackmail charges require skillful handling by an aggressive attorney who is well-versed in defending extortion charges.
There can be other defenses to this crime, some of which include:
- No actual threat or coercion took place.
- There was no intent to profit from a threat.
- The defendant was mentally insane or involuntarily intoxicated.
- There is a conspiracy to convict the defendant because he was a whistleblower.
Defense attorneys may sometimes question the way evidence was obtained. If it can be determined that an illegal search or seizure took place, motions to suppress certain evidence could then be filed. Many times, this leaves U.S. attorneys with little evidence to use for prosecuting a case, and charges are therefore dismissed.