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California Blackmail Laws

Posted in California Law,Criminal Defense on June 9, 2022

Blackmail, the common term for extortion, is a serious crime in the state of California. If convicted, defendants risk time behind bars and significant fines. Under California Penal Code, blackmail and extortion are one in the same and thus governed by the state’s extortion laws. If you are facing a blackmail charge, you need to seek out representation from a seasoned Riverside criminal defense attorney right away. 

California Penal Code Section 518C: Extortion

Blackmail or extortion is the use of force or threats in order to compel someone else to provide money or property. Further, blackmail can be used to describe the use of force or threat to compel a public official to either neglect or perform an act or duty. Extortion is a felony. 

There are four elements that must be proven by the prosecution to convict a defendant of blackmail or extortion in the California courts. Defendants who are adjudged guilty of blackmail must be shown to have:

  • Threatened to accuse someone of a criminal act, or
  • Threatened to expose someone else’s secret (a fact unknown to the general public that could harm the victim’s reputation if disclosed), or
  • Threatened to injure someone.  
  • The defendant must have intended to use the fear or force threatened to obtain money, property, or consent from the victim or cause the victim to perform a specific official act.

Additionally, the victim must comply with the demands of the defendant based on the use of force or threat. 

Absent these four elements, the defendant cannot be found guilty of extortion. Consent in a blackmail case can be unwilling or coerced, provided it occurs due to fear of threat or the use of force. 

Example of Blackmail

Blackmail is generally committed via verbal statements and thus leaves very little evidence behind. It is not uncommon for defendants to face wrongful accusations as a result. In these cases, it is often the best course of action to show why the victim in the case has a motive to accuse the defendant in the first place. 

A good example of blackmail might involve a subordinate having an affair with their boss. The subordinate threatens to report the boss to the police for rape unless the boss agrees to a pay raise, and so a raise is granted. However, the subordinate in this case could likely be prosecuted for blackmail under Section 518 PC of the California Penal Code.

Blackmail Penalties

Under California law, those found guilty or who plead to the offense of extortion or blackmail can be sentenced to as much as three years in prison. While extortion is a felony, attempted extortion can sometimes be filed as a misdemeanor since it is a wobbler offense under California statutes. 

Charged With Blackmail? We Can Help

The team at the Law Offices of Graham Donath knows how frightening and frustrating it can be to be charged with blackmail. Let our Riverside criminal defense attorney help you negate the potential negative outcomes of your criminal case, including strategizing your defense.  Be proactive in putting your charges behind you. Request a confidential consultation or call us in Riverside at 951-667-5293 or in Orange County at 714-758-5293