When a person obtains damaging information – whether it is true or false – they cannot threaten to use that knowledge to damage someone else’s life or reputation in return for money. Though the First Amendment of the Consitution permits the freedom of speech, and thus, allows people to speak about another person’s private life, there is a difference between that and extortion. The speech becomes illegal when used as leverage or to blackmail another individual.
In this post, our Denver criminal defense attorneys at WeedenLaw will provide information to help you better understand what extortion means and what can come from an extortion charge.
What is Extortion?
Many people may consider extortion to be synonymous with blackmail, which for the most part, it is. Traditionally, the crime of extortion is reserved for threats against or by public figures or government officials, while blackmail describes the extortion of a private person. However, the crime of extortion can apply to both public and private citizens. Whatever terminology you use, it is against the law to extort money or other valued compensation in return for not exposing harmful or incriminating information about another person.
For example, threatening to release evidence of an extramarital affair involving a politician unless they pay a certain sum of money is a common type of extortion. However, it doesn’t always have to be money that’s on the table. Another example might be an angry ex threatening to post nude photographs of their ex-spouse if they don’t let them keep the family home following a divorce. Alerting authorities to another individual’s illegal immigration status is also a recently qualified form of extortion.
The definition of extortion is the practice of obtaining something, typically money, by use of force or threats to a person, their property, or their reputation. To induce someone to act against their will to complete a certain act or refrain from completing an act is to use extortion.
The extortion statute in Colorado expands further on the common-law extortion definition. Under C.R.S. § 18-3-207, any individual who takes money or property from another individual by methods of illegal compulsion may be charged with the crime of extortion.
§ 18-3-207 – Criminal Extortion
A person commits criminal extortion if:
a. The person, without legal authority and with the intent to induce another person against that other person’s will to perform an act or to refrain from performing a lawful act, makes a substantial threat to confine or restrain, cause economic hardship or bodily injury to, or damage the property or reputation of, the threatened person or another person; and
b. The person threatens to cause the results described in paragraph (a) of this subsection (1) by:
I. Performing or causing an unlawful act to be performed; or
II. Invoking action by a third party, including but not limited to, the state or any of its political subdivisions, whose interests are not substantially related to the interests pursued by the person making the threat.
A person commits criminal extortion if the person, with the intent to induce another person against that other person’s will to give the person money or another item of value, threatens to report to law enforcement officials the immigration status of the threatened person or another person.
§ 18-3-207 – Aggravated Extortion
A person commits aggravated criminal extortion if, in addition to the acts described in subsection (1) of this section, the person threatens to cause the results described in paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of this section by means of chemical, biological, or harmful radioactive agents, weapons, or poison.
Is Attempted Extortion a Crime?
In most cases, merely attempting to extort money is a crime in and of itself. A person still commits the crime by attempting to obtain something from another person by using force or threats, even if they are unsuccessful in depriving that person of anything.
A prosecutor may charge this offense as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The final judgment depends on the jurisdiction, the circumstances of the case, and the defendant’s criminal history.
How To Prove Extortion
In order to successfully convict someone of extortion, certain elements must be met to prove the act actually occurred. These elements include threat, intent, fear, and property. We’ll further break down each of these elements below:
The crime of extortion must involve a threat of some kind. The individual threatening the victim must indicate that he or she intends to injure or damage the victim either physically, financially, or emotionally. For example, threatening to harm a victim by accusing them of a crime or other shameful conduct, exposing a secret, or reporting a person to immigration. Threats can be made verbally, nonverbally, in writing, or generally any other means of communication.
Another important element of extortion is intent. This crime occurs not only when someone makes a threat, but when they do so with the purpose of compelling another person to do something. That may be anything from paying money, handing over property, or simply exchanging something of value. The circumstances and evidence surrounding the threat, rather than the defendant’s own statement, will determine intent. Thus, the prosecution does not need to establish what was going on in the defendant’s mind to prove the accused meant to deprive the victim of something of value to them.
When someone makes a threat or tries to extort money from someone, the threat must be enough to make the victim fearful. Violence, financial loss, a damaged reputation, deportation, or anything else that could force the victim to act or surrender property can all be sources of fear. This is not to say that the victim must be visibly afraid. All that matters is that the accused had intentions of making the victim fearful.
When someone uses extortion to gain property, the property in question may be practically anything with value. It does not have to be tangible property, and it might not even have any monetary worth. As long as it poses some sort of value to the defendant, it can apply. The entails property such as cash, tangible items, sexual activities, liquor licenses, debts, and even promises not to compete in business, according to the courts.
Penalties for Extortion in Colorado
According to Colorado’s criminal statutes, criminal extortion is a class 4 felony, while aggravated criminal extortion is a class 3 felony. Class 4 felonies in Colorado carry a presumptive sentence of two to six years in prison and/or a fine of anywhere from $2,000 to $500,000. Also required is three years of mandatory parole.
Class 3 felonies in Colorado are punishable by anywhere from four to twelve years in prison and/or fines ranging from $3,000 to up to $750,000. Extraordinary risk class 3 offenses are punishable by up to 16 years in prison. While class 4 felonies can typically be sealed three years following the conviction, class 3 felonies are permanent and are not eligible for record sealing in Colorado.
Working with Competent Legal Counsel Gives You the Best Chance at Fighting Back Against Extortion Charges
If you face extortion charges in Colorado, it’s important that you obtain the skill and experience of a seasoned defense attorney. When you hire Jeff Weeden, you’ll get a legal professional who has experience in both Colorado state and federal courtrooms. At WeedenLaw, we take on a variety of criminal cases, from white-collar crime charges in Colorado to homicide cases. If you’re wondering when to hire a criminal defense attorney, the time is now. Don’t put it off any longer! Fill out our simple online contact form or call 720-307-4330 to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Colorado criminal defense attorney at WeedenLaw today.