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Crimes of Extortion

The term "extortion" is generally defined as a criminal offense involving the use of threats, coercion, or intimidation to obtain money (or other things of value such as goods or services). In these cases, extortion includes an element that the victim was intimidated into providing money or other things of value because of a threat of possible violence, force, or harm.

The definition of extortion crimes under either state or federal law often involve a shakedown, extraction, bribery, blackmail, public corruption or demands for ranson. Within the definition, even a threat to a person's mental well-being can constitute a threat of injury. Under Florida law, the courts have held that the threatened injury does not necessarily have to be a threat of physical injury.

In recent years, the number of cyberextortion crimes continue to rise. In these cases, a person (who often has no prior relationship with the victim) steal a secret from the victim electronically or by hacking into their computer. The person commits the crime by then threatening to release the secret unless the victim pays money or takes some other course of action. Other crimes related to cyberextortion including cyberharrassment or cyberstalking.

The statute of limitations for crimes of extortion charged under Florida Statute Section 836.05, a second degree felony, is three years.

Attorney for Extortion Crimes in Tampa, FL

If you are under investigation for extortion under either state or federal law, then contact a criminal defense attorney at the Sammis Law Firm in Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL. Never speak to a law enforcement officer about criminal allegations for extortion until after you have spoken with an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

Many claims of extortion occur in the workplace and are considered white collar crimes. Other extortion charges take place in a domestic relationship between former lovers and can be considered a crime of domestic or dating violence. Whether your case is being investigated at the state or federal Level, the attorneys at the Sammis Law Firm are ready to help you fight the allegations.

Call us today at 813-250-0500 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.


Elements in Florida's "Extortion" Statute - Section 836.05

Extortion crimes prosecuted under Florida law are classified as a second degree felony under Florida Statute Section 836.05 punishable by up to 15 years in Florida State Prison and a $10,000 fine. The crime of extortion has a Level 6 offense severity ranking under Florida's Criminal Punishment Code.

The offense of extortion includes four elements, except five elements are required when the threat is made to a third party. Those elements of extortion include the following:

  • The Defendant made a verbal, printed or written communication to another person;
  • In that communication, the defendant threatened to:
    • accuse another person of any offense or crime;
    • injure another person;
    • injure the property or reputation of another person;
    • expose another person to disgrace;
    • expose any secret affecting another person (often called "blackmail"); or
    • impute any deformity or lack of chastity to another person.
  • The Defendant's threat was made maliciously;
  • The Defendant's threat was made with the intent to:
    • extort money or any pecuniary advantage whatsoever from another person;
    • compel another person to do any act or refrain from doing any act against his or her will.

If the threat was made to a third party, then the prosecutor with the State of Florida must also prove a fifth element:

  • At the time the Defendant made the threat, the Defendant intended that the threat be communicated to the person who was extorted or compelled.

The standard jury instructions for extortion were adopted in 2014. The standard jury instructions for extortion provide that it is not necessary for the State of Florida to prove the actual intent to do harm nor the ability to carry out the threat. The statute prohibits both threats to cause mental or psychological damage. See Duan v. State, 970 So. 2d 903 (Fla. 1st DCA 2007).

The crime of extortion does not have any lesser-included offenses. Additionally, “attempted” extortion is not a crime. Achin v. State, 436 So. 2d 30 (Fla. 1982).


Proving the Extortion Threat Was Made Malicious

Under Florida law, the term "maliciously" generally requires actual malice or legal malice. The term "maliciously" is usually defined as intentionally and without any lawful justification. See Calamia v. State, 125 So. 3d 1007 (Fla. 5th DCA 2013). Alternatively, “maliciously” can be defined as ill will, hatred, spite, or an evil intent. Id.

In Alonso v. State, 447 So.2d 1029, 1030 (Fla. 4th DCA 1984), the Fourth District Court of Appeal explained:

[Actual malice] is not contemplated by the crime of extortion. The basic statutory ingredients are a threat made maliciously with the intent to require another to perform an act against his will. The malice requirement is satisfied if the threat is made "willfully and purposely to the prejudice and injury of another....'" Black's Law Dictionary, 4th Ed…. A threat is malicious if it is made intentionally and without any lawful justification. Coupled with the requisite intent it constitutes the crime of extortion.

Additionally, Courts have found that the extortion statute prohibits only those utterances or communications which constitute malicious threats to do injury to another's person, reputation, or property. Furthermore, the threats must be made with the intent to extort money or the intent to compel another to act or refrain from acting against his will. See Id. (citing Carricarte v. State, 384 So.2d 1261 (Fla.1980)).


Cyberextortion

While extortion involves obtaining something of value—usually money—through actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, when the crime occurs over the internet or through electronic communications, the crime is often called cyberextortion. During cyberextorion schemes, the threats are communicated digitally, through online messages or via text messages.

The term "cyberextortion" also refers to a special type of extortion in which the perpetrator does not threaten actual physical violence. Instead, the perpetrator hacks, threatens to hacks, or threatens to release secrets that were hacked. The most common example of cyber extortion involves threatening to engage in an activity that will take down or disrupt a corporation's website or steal its data unless the corporation pays the attacker a ranson to stop the attack.

Another type of cyber extortion involves using malware to encrypts data on an organization’s computer system or network (often called “ransomware" or “cryptoviral extortion”). Then the perpetrator threatens not to give the corporation the encryption key unless money or something else of value is paid.


Extortion under Federal Law

Extortion crimes under Federal Law are set out in Chapter 41 of the United States Code. Many extortion cases under Federal Law are prosecuted as part of a larger RICO case involving organized crime. The crime is commonly linked with wire fraud or mail fraud claims. Extortion crimes can be prosecuted in Federal Court when the case involves an allegation that the defendant conveyed through interstate or foreign commerce a transmission or communication in furtherance of an extortion plot under 18 USC 875(b).

Other types of extortion charges under Federal Law include an allegation under 18 USC 872. Under this type of extortion charge an employee or officer of the United States Government or one who poses as such can commit extortion and be sentenced to up to one year in prison. If the extortion involves an amount of more than $1,000 then the sentence can be up to three years in prison.

Under 18 USC 873 the federal crime of blackmail can be alleged if one threatens to inform the authorities of a violation of United States Code in exchange for receiving something of value (or as consideration for not informing the authorities of any violation of United States Code).


Additional Resources

Hackers Latest Weapon - Cyber Extortion - Read a recent article published in the Wall Street Journal concerning how hackers are committing extortion crimes online against both individuals and corporations after stealing secrets or sensitive data and then threatening to release or publish the secret unless money is paid or other actions are taken. The article explains how hackers also use ransomware attacks to extort money from corporations.

Cyber Misbehavior from Extortion to Cyberstalking - The United States Attorneys’ Bulletin is published pursuant to 28 CFR § 0 22(b) on a bimonthly basis. In this bulletin, prosecutor’s discuss sexortion, preventing online crimes against children, cyberbullying, swatting crimes, and cyberstalking. 


Finding an Attorney for Extortion Crimes in Florida

The attorneys at Sammis Law Firm are familiar with the defense of extortion laws under both state and federal law. Call us to discuss your case and the best defense against these types of charges. Never speak with a state or federal law enforcement officer until after you have discussed the allegations with a criminal defense attorney.

Anything you say can be used against you to prove one or more elements of the offense. Your criminal defense attorney is often in the best position to tell your side of the story to law enforcement. We also represent clients charged with cyberextortion, cyberharassment or cyberstalking. Whether the case involves a demand for ranson, a shakedown, an extraction, bribery, or public corruption, our criminal defense attorneys have the experience to help you fight the charges aggressively.

Call an attorney at the Sammis Law Firm today at 813-250-0500. Schedule a consultation to discuss the facts of your case and the best possible defense.


This article was last updated on Friday, May 18, 2018.