The Differences Between Extortion and Blackmail
Extortion and blackmail are similar crimes. In the state of California, they are both covered under one law (the California Extortion and Blackmail Law) and have the same penalties, but these two crimes are different.
What Is Extortion?
Extortion is defined as the use of coercion to obtain money, goods, or services from an individual. The coercion could be violence, the threat of violence, destruction of property, or incorrect governmental activity. Threatened refusal to testify can also be classified as coercion.
For example, take the scenario of a local gang in a neighborhood. Members of the gang approach a small business and threaten the destruction of the shop unless the owner pays them a regular “protection” fee. That is the crime of extortion. Another type of coercion is when a government official obtains money to perform an official act, or when a police officer abstains from an arrest in exchange for cash.
What Is Blackmail?
Blackmail, on the other hand, can be defined as obtaining money, goods, or services from an individual through the threat of revealing embarrassing, incriminating, or socially damaging information.
As an example of blackmail, take the scenario of Joe obtaining knowledge of Bill’s prior sexual misbehavior. Joe knows that revealing this knowledge to Bill’s wife can cause their marriage to fall apart, and threatens that he will reveal this knowledge unless Bill pays Joe a sum of money. That is blackmail and is illegal. There are countless cases of blackmail where celebrities have paid to keep their relationships hidden.
It is interesting to note that blackmail is a crime regardless of the validity of the information. Even if you are threatening to reveal real criminal activity, it is still blackmailing and illegal.
What Are the Penalties for Blackmail and Extortion?
Unlike some other states, in California, blackmail and extortion are classified as felonies and carry a penalty of up to four years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Even if someone “unsuccessfully” blackmails or extorts someone else, they are still guilty of a crime – but in this case, it is attempted blackmail or extortion. Attempted blackmail can be classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the severity of the crime. If a misdemeanor, the penalty can be up to 364 days in prison and a fine of up to $1,000. If a felony, the penalties imposed can be up to four years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
I’ve Been Charged with Blackmail or Extortion – What Do I Do Now?
The best thing to do if charged with blackmail or extortion is to get a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney on your side. Connect with Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP immediately if you are facing charges of blackmail or extortion.