Extortion

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps
 
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Page 289

The obtaining of property from another induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of official right.

Under the COMMON LAW, extortion is a misdemeanor consisting of an unlawful taking of money by a government officer. It is an oppressive misuse of the power with which the law clothes a public officer.

Page 290

Most jurisdictions have statutes governing extortion that broaden the common-law definition. Under such statutes, any person who takes money or property from another by means of illegal compulsion may be guilty of the offense. When used in this sense, extortion is synonymous with blackmail, which is extortion by a private person. In addition, under some statutes a corporation may be liable for extortion.

Elements of Offense

Virtually all extortion statutes require that a threat must be made to the person or property of the victim. Threats to harm the victim's friends or relatives may also be included. It is not necessary for a threat to involve physical injury. It may be sufficient to threaten to accuse another person of a crime or to expose a secret that would result in public embarrassment or ridicule. The threat does not have to relate to an unlawful act. Extortion may be carried out by a threat to tell the victim's spouse that the victim is having an illicit sexual affair with another.

Other types of threats sufficient to constitute extortion include those to harm the victim's business and those to either testify against the victim or withhold testimony necessary to his or her defense or claim in an administrative proceeding or a lawsuit. Many statutes also provide that any threat to harm another person in his or her career or reputation is extortion.

Under the common law and many statutes, an intent to take money or property to which one is not lawfully entitled must exist at the time of the threat in order to establish extortion. Statutes may contain words such as "willful" or "purposeful" in order to indicate the intent element. When this is so, someone who mistakenly believes he or she is entitled to the money or property cannot be guilty of extortion. Some statutes, however, provide that any unauthorized taking of money by an officer constitutes extortion. Under these statutes, a person...

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