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Criminal Defense Information for Extortion (Cal. Penal Code s. 518)

  1. What is Extortion?
  2. How is Extortion different from bribery?
  3. What are the necessary elements to be found guilty of Extortion?
  4. What is the sentence / punishment for Extortion?
  5. What are possible defenses to charges of Extortion?
  1. What is Extortion?

    Extortion is the obtaining of property from another with his consent or obtaining an official act through the use of force, fear or color of authority. Cal. Pen. Code s. 518 Opens in New Window. The key to extortion is that fear, force, or the use of color of authority was the reason for the official action or the consent for the transfer of property.

    The fear required for Extortion may be induced by threatening to:

    • Unlawfully injure the person or property of the person threatened or of a third party;
    • Accuse the individual threatened, or any relative of his, or member of his family, of any crime;
    • Expose, or to impute to him or his famliy any deformity, disgrace, or crime; or
    • Expose any secret affecting him or his family.

    Cal. Pen. Code s. 519 Opens in New Window.

  2. How is Extortion different from bribery?

    Extortion is using threats, fear, or color of authority to get property from someone with their "consent" or using those devices to coerce an act from an official. Bribery is the offering or giving of something of value in exchange for a particular act or item from an official.

    In other words, extortion uses threats to get a particular result and bribery uses money or other valuable goods to get the desired result.

    See the bribery definition generally at Cal. Pen. Code s. 7 Opens in New Window.

  3. What are the necessary elements to be found guilty of Extortion?

    To prove the defendant committed Extortion, the state must show that the defendant:

    1. Obtained property from another person with that person's consent - OR - obtained the official act of a public officer; and
    2. Induced that consent or act through the use of force, fear, or color of authority.
  4. What is the sentence / punishment for Extortion?

    Extortion of property that does not rise to robbery or carjacking will be punishable as a felony with two, three, or four years of prison under Cal. Pen. Code s. 1170 (h) Opens in New Window. Cal. Pen. Code s. 520 Opens in New Window.

    Every person who attempts to extort property from another with force or fear under Cal. Pen. Code s. 519 Opens in New Window is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of one year in jail and/or a $10,000 fine. Cal. Pen. Code s. 524 Opens in New Window. See also, Attempts.

    If the extortion is committed under color of official right or under color of authority, the extortion is a misdemeanor unless a more specific punishment is indicated by another statute. Cal. Pen. Code s. 521 Opens in New Window.

  5. What are possible defenses to charges of Extortion?

    To prove someone committed a crime, the state (through its prosecutors) must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed each element of the crime. Therefore, defenses to any crime start with negating one or more of the elements of the crime. Additionally, some crimes allow for “affirmative” defenses which, if the defendant can prove the defense applies, will result in a verdict of “not guilty” even if the prosecutor proves the defendant met each of the elements of the crime.

    If the prosecutor can prove all the elements of Extortion, however, the defendant must prove that one or more justifications for his actions existed (i.e., it is the defendant’s burden to prove an affirmative defense). For Extortion, some of these justifications include:

    • Accident;
    • Alibi / Mistaken Identity;
    • Coerced Confession;
    • Double Jeopardy;
    • Duress / Threats;
    • Entrapment;
    • Insanity;
    • Necessity;
    • Self-Defense / Defense of Others;
    • Statute of Limitations;
    • Unconsciousness; and
    • Voluntary / Involuntary Intoxication.
See also, Bribery.