Criminal Law - Federal

Can I Be Arrested for Blackmail?

You’ve probably heard about corrupt blackmail schemes involving public officials or online scammers. If you threaten to share certain harmful, sensitive information about a third party in exchange for money or other valuables, you can be arrested under both federal law and state law, for the crime of blackmail.

Before you threaten anyone to try and get money, make sure you understand what’s at risk. You could face criminal charges, even if you weren’t actually going to report anything. If you are accused of blackmail or extortion, contact a federal criminal defense lawyer for advice.

What Is Blackmail?

Blackmail is trying to get money or something of value by threatening to reveal sensitive information. This could involve threatening to tell the police someone committed a crime. However, it could also include embarrassing but non-criminal acts, like reporting an affair to someone’s spouse. Under federal law, there is a specific criminal statute for blackmail.

Some states have blackmail charges, but other states include blackmail under their state extortion statutes. For example, under California law, extortion could include threatening to accuse someone of committing a crime. State laws may also have similar charges for bribery or tampering.

What Are the Elements of the Federal Crime of Blackmail?

You probably think of blackmail in general terms as when a person threatens to share or keep a secret in exchange for a significant amount of cash. However, the definition of a federal crime of blackmail under federal law is more narrow.

Under federal criminal law, you can’t be convicted of blackmail for just sharing any type of information about someone that they didn’t want made public, as embarrassing as it may be. For blackmail, you have to threaten to disclose or keep your mouth shut in exchange for money. However, the information has to involve violating U.S. law or criminal activity.

Is Blackmail the Same as Extortion?

The crime of extortion and blackmail have some similarities. Extortion involves threats of violence or physical injury or threats to damage property. However, the criminal offense of blackmail involves threatening to disclose information. Generally, blackmail doesn’t include making a physical threat, but it could be a threat to cause reputational and emotional harm.

What Are Examples of Blackmail and Extortion?

If you think your boss at work may be committing a crime, sending an email demanding that they give you a bonus for agreeing not to report the crime to law enforcement could be considered a form of blackmail.

An example of extortion usually involves threats of violence or physical harm against a target or their loved one. For example, sending a text message to someone threatening to burn their house down unless they give you $1,000 would be considered a form of extortion.

Public officials are often targeted for blackmail crimes because of the power of their position, but the victim doesn’t have to be a public official for you to be charged with federal blackmail charges.

What Are the Penalties for Blackmail?

The penalties for a blackmail conviction can include time in federal prison, harsh fines, and a permanent criminal record. The penalties for misdemeanor blackmail, a misdemeanor, can include:

  • Up to one year in jail
  • Fines
  • Restitution

The victim of blackmail could also get a restraining order to keep you from contacting them or their family members.

Don’t take the chance of going into federal court for a blackmail criminal offense without an experienced criminal defense attorney representing you. The penalties and harm to your reputation are not worth the risk. A criminal defense attorney can protect your legal rights at all stages of the criminal process. If you are under investigation for federal blackmail, contact a criminal defense lawyer for legal advice.

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