Extortion: What Exactly is It?

Criminal hands handcuffed

Extortion happens when a person tries to get a property or money through the threat of violence, property damage, negative government action, or harm to another person’s reputation (blackmail). Note that it differs from robbery in that extortion doesn’t place the person in immediate or imminent fear of physical harm. Rather, the threat could happen later on and could affect not only the threatened person’s body, but also his or her reputation.

In addition, courts typically consider extortion a white collar crime if it was conducted via a professional or business setting and without violence. For a charge of extortion to stick, the prosecution would have to prove the following:


The defendant should have stated his intent to commit a harmful action or injury to the victim in writing, verbally, gestures, or other forms of communication. It’s actually enough in some states that the defendant made a threat.


The threat of the accused should have caused the victim fear that could be based on virtually anything. For example, social stigma, fear of violent acts, deportation, economic or job loss, or any other things that could lead to the victim handing over the property. But note that the victim doesn’t necessarily have to “experience or feel” fear, only that the defendant intended to have caused that fear.


The defendant must have threatened the victim with the specific intention of compelling him or her to give something valuable, such as a property or cash, explains a top white collar attorney in Houston. The intent isn’t dependent on the statements of the defendant alone, but on the facts and circumstances that surround the threat as well.


The property the defendant must have attempted to obtain through extortion should be something of value to the victim. It does not have to be actual property or have a high dollar value. It could be anything from actual cash, debts, tangible items, liquor licenses, as well as non-compete business agreements. It’s likewise unnecessary for the defendant to deprive or deny the victim the property because the act of trying to extort property is likewise an offense.

The laws regarding extortion are complex and subject to different interpretations by courts. If you’ve been charged with extortion, you must consult an experienced defense lawyer as soon as possible to help you build the best defense for your case.