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What Defines Extortion In California?

Extortion, commonly known as blackmail, is a serious criminal offense in California. Extortion is defined under Penal Code Section 518 as "the use of force or fear to compel another person to give over money or property." Anyone who engages in extortion or even attempts to do so may face severe legal consequences. This article will discuss the definition of extortion in California, the elements of the crime, the possible penalties, and how a criminal defense attorney can help if you are facing extortion charges.

Definition of Extortion in California

Extortion occurs when one person threatens another person with violence or harm unless they give over money or property. The threat can be explicit, implied, or even made through body language or other nonverbal cues. According to California law, extortion can also be committed by threatening to reveal embarrassing or damaging information about someone unless they comply with the demands.

The Elements of the Crime

To prove a defendant is guilty of extortion, the prosecutor must prove each of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The defendant used force or fear to compel the victim to give them money or property.
  • The defendant made the threat with the intent of obtaining the victim's money or property.
  • The victim was reasonably afraid of the threatened harm.
  • The victim gave over the money or property as a result of the defendant's threat.

It is important to note that the threat does not have to be physical in nature. It can also be a threat of harm to the victim's reputation or livelihood. For example, threatening to release private photos or videos of the victim could constitute extortion under California law.

Possible Penalties

The penalties for extortion in California can vary depending on the severity of the crime and the defendant's criminal history. Extortion is considered a felony offense in California, punishable by imprisonment for up to four years in state prison and a maximum fine of $10,000. However, if the defendant threatened the victim with violence or committed extortion against a public official or law enforcement officer, the penalties can be much more severe.

If the defendant used a weapon during the commission of the crime, the court can add a sentence enhancement of up to ten years in state prison. Additionally, if the defendant was acting on behalf of a gang or criminal organization, they could face additional penalties under California's gang enhancement laws.

Defenses for Extortion Charges

If you are facing extortion charges in California, a criminal defense attorney can help you develop a strong defense strategy. Some common defenses for extortion charges include:

  • Lack of intent: If the defendant did not intend to extort the victim and the victim misinterpreted their words or actions, the charges may be dismissed.
  • Lack of evidence: If the prosecutor cannot prove all of the elements of the crime, the charges may be dismissed.
  • Duress: If the defendant was forced to commit the crime under threat of harm themselves, they may be able to use duress as a defense.
  • Consent: If the victim willingly gave over the money or property without coercion, there may be a defense based on consent.
  • Entrapment: If law enforcement induced the defendant to commit the crime, they may be able to use entrapment as a defense.


In conclusion, extortion is a serious criminal offense in California that can result in severe legal consequences. If you are facing extortion charges, it is essential to seek the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you develop a strong defense strategy. By understanding the elements of the crime, the potential penalties, and the available defenses, you can better navigate the criminal justice system and work towards the best possible outcome for your case.

H Law Group Online

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