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What Is Federal Extortion?

Extortion occurs when someone threatens another with violence, property damage, harm to their reputation or demanding money or something else of value to prevent acting on the threat. Extortion or, in some cases, blackmail, is a fairly common crime. Extortion is typically a white-collar crime conducted both by government officials as well as by private citizens.

Federal extortion is a very serious offense. If you are convicted of extortion, you can face federal charges which lead to imprisonment, fines or both. If you have been charged with federal extortion it is important that you consult with an attorney who has previous experience with federal extortion cases.

Federal Definition of Extortion

Extortion is defined at the federal level within the U.S. Code and contains several specific sections related to various versions of the offense — from mailed threats to the president of the United States to simple blackmail.

The common elements of extortion all include a threat against the person or property of the victim, and the offender can be threatening physical, financial or reputational harm.

Is Blackmail Federal Extortion?

Blackmail is explicitly listed under the federal extortion statute (USC Title 18, Section 873) and is broad enough to include almost all material threats against a person or property according to federal law.

The penalty, if you are convicted of federal blackmail charges, is up to one-year imprisonment and/or a monetary fine.

Types of Federal Extortion

A person can be charged with different types of extortion for any of the following:

  • Making any demand for ransom for the release of a kidnapped person
  • Making any demand for reward for the release of a kidnapped person
  • Making any threat of violence or to injure the property or reputation of another person or to accuse another person of a crime with the intent to receive ransom or reward

Federal extortion is a serious offense so it is important to search for an experienced federal extortion attorney in your area who has a good understanding of the laws regarding federal tax fraud.

What Are the Elements of Extortion?

The basic elements of extortion must be proven in order to convict a person of extortion.

First, there must have been a documented threat made by the offender toward the victim. Extortion is predicated on the existence of this threat, and it must involve an intention to harm the victim. The definition of harm is quite broad, and a threat to conduct injury to person, property, reputation, office, job status or another significant element of a victim’s life can qualify.

Intent, as in all criminal cases, must also be proven. Prosecutors typically rely on a preponderance of physical evidence such as a threatening email or witness testimony, or even contextual evidence such as previous interactions between the victim and offender, to establish intent. Intent to cause fear of reprisal in order to secure compliance can also be considered in blackmail or extortion cases.

An attempt to deprive the victim of property such as physical property or intellectual property is also commonly considered an element of extortion. In cases where threats to job security or reputation are not involved, physical or intellectual property are frequently targeted by blackmailers and extortionists.

Federal Extortion Penalties

If you are convicted of extortion or blackmail at the federal level, penalties range depending on the severity of the crime, as well as the section of the USC the offense falls under.

If you are convicted of mailing threats to kidnap, to injure or to injure the reputation of a victim, you could face between five to 20 years in federal prison, depending on the severity of the threats. Meanwhile, those involved in receiving, holding or disposing of the proceeds of extortion or blackmail, provided the offense which secured those proceeds was punishable by a sentence of greater than one year, face up to three years in prison if found guilty in federal court.

You could also be charged by the state for extortion or blackmail independently of federal courts.

Possible Federal Extortion Defenses

When defending against federal extortion charges, attorneys have several options depending on the circumstances of the case. Your attorney may be able to show that the victim of extortion did not believe the threat, that you were coerced into making the threat or that you did not intend your statement to be a threat.

A factual innocence defense might be possible with witness testimony, corroborating documents and character witnesses if there is no solid evidence put forth by the prosecution.

A lack of provable intent on the part of the defendant can also be a useful defense in federal extortion cases, as could the methods in which certain pieces of evidence were secured (say, a warrantless raid of the defendant’s home or office to procure correspondence).

How to Create Reasonable Doubt in Extortion Cases

Because it is the responsibility of the prosecution to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, it is your attorney’s job to find and present any evidence that could create reasonable doubt.

For example, if a juror after considering the alleged threat, is unsure that what you said was an actual threat, the juror is uncertain and must give you the benefit of that doubt and find you innocent.

Your extortion defense attorney may be able to accomplish that by conducting a defense investigation and calling witnesses on your behalf.

Developing Mitigating Evidence

In developing and presenting mitigating evidence to the court or a jury, your attorney could get the charges dismissed, or get your prison sentence reduced.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Federal Extortion Charges?

As federal extortion charges carry a severe legal penalty, it is strongly advised that you secure the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Professional legal counsel can help you fight the charges in the best way possible.

How a Federal Extortion Attorney Can Help

Your attorney will explain the charges filed against you, the elements of the charges that the federal government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt, the court procedures involved and the punishment and fines allowed by law.

An attorney may be able to file various motions with the court on your behalf, such as a motion to suppress evidence illegally seized by investigators. This could lead to the possibility of dropping the charges against you.

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