Crime Overview Extortion

Extortion is a criminal act that occurs when a person obtains money, goods, or a desired behavior from another person through violence or threats. It is also can be called outwresting or exaction. This offense is commonly practiced by organized crime groups. In its formal definition, it means the infliction of something, for example pain and suffering, or making somebody endure something unpleasant. Common terms associated with extortion are bribery, blackmail, hush money, and white-collar crime.

The legal requirements for extortion are very similar to those of robbery. It is the time of the intended harm that separates the two offenses. Extortion is different from robbery in that the item of value is willingly given to the extortionist, whereas in a robbery the items are taken without the owner's knowledge, by force, or both. Extortionists use threats to gaining the victim's consent through illegal means. In robbery, the threat to hurt someone is at that present moment, and in extortion the threat to harm is later. With extortion, the threats include threats: to inflict bodily harm on the victim, damage the property of the victim, or expose victims to shame or ridicule.

Extortion can be considered a white-collar crime if performed non-violently through a business or professional setting. The definition of a white-collar crime is a violation of the law committed by a person or group of persons in the course of an otherwise respected and legitimate occupation or financial activity. Making a threat of violence or a lawsuit which refers to a requirement of a payment of money or property in order to stop any future violences is sufficient enough to commit the offense. However, extortion can also be a violent crime, where threats of violence or actual violence create the intimidation leading to the release of the desired property, goods, or behavior. Extortion is commonly seen in organized crime, when a business or person is required to pay for "protection."

In the United States, extortion can also be committed as a federal crime across a computer system, phone, mail, message board, or any other instrument of "interstate commerce" and can be as simplistic as threatening someone to do something "or else." In committing the crime of extortion, an individual must willingly and knowingly send a message. It does not have to be received by anyone, just sending it is committing a crime.

There are several methods used in extortion. Blackmail is one form of extortion. Blackmail refers generally to a threat to reveal information that may damage a person's reputation. The incriminating information can be true or false. The extortionist does not have to act on the threats for it to be considered extortion. The act is extortion because it demands something from the victim in return for not revealing incriminating information. An example of blackmail would be if a person requested payment to keep from revealing personal information, such as an extramarital affair.

Ransom is another form of extortion, in which the extortionist holds something of value from the victim only to be returned upon a condition, be it a payment of money, information or other demands. Kidnapping and extortion are often committed in conjunction with one another for the purposes of financial gain, obtaining trade secrets, or to make social or political statement. Ransom can be used with kidnapping, but also with personal property or a pet.

Extortion can be a federal crime or a state crime. While the specifics of state laws can vary, extortion is a felony and can lead to imprisonment and fines. The punishment for extortion is dependent upon the specific circumstances of the act, whether or not violence was involved, and the value of the goods in question. The punishment will also vary from state to state.

The punishment for extortion depends on whether force was used in extortion money or other property. Where threat or force was used, punishment may be in the state prison for two to four years. The preceding term of years are referred to as the low, mid, and high terms. The middle term is associated with the appropriate amount of time for sentencing that is handed down in a felony case. Even if no money or property was exchanged, but a person signed a paper obligating him or her to a debt or demand, where the circumstances were by the means constituted extortion, then extortion has happened.

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