What’s the first thing that comes to your mind whenever someone says the word “extortion”? Let me guess. Some badass villain from an action film starring Liam Neeson, Sylvester Stallone or Bruce Willis offering to “protect” business or property in exchange for money. This “generous” offer is usually accompanied by the phrase along the lines of, “You pay me now or I destroy your business.”
While this is a classic and action movie-esque example of “extortion” as we know it, this is far from the only form of extortion. And extortion in real life is more common than you think.
Our Pittsburgh extortion defense attorney from SMT Legal warns that extortion is considered a serious crime in Pennsylvania, and prosecutors in our state jump at any opportunity to press extortion charges. Unfortunately, many times, innocent people end up wrongly prosecuted for and falsely accused of extortion, coercion, and blackmail, which are often viewed as synonyms but carry different legal definitions and penalties.
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Before we get to the meat and potatoes of mounting a legal defense to extortion charges in Pennsylvania, let us explain the differences between these three seemingly synonymous terms: extortion, coercion, and blackmail.
In a nutshell, extortion can be defined as the unlawfully coerced acquisition of property, money, services, or favors. The classic example of extortion that we provided at the beginning falls into this legal definition.
Coercion, on the other hand, refers to forcing an individual to commit a crime or do anything the individual would not normally do by intimidating him or her, threatening to inflict bodily injury or other harm against this individual or his/her family members, and or threatening to damage property.
Blackmail, which is commonly confused with extortion, can be defined as threatening another individual to disclose sensitive, provocative, confidential or compromising information or visuals in exchange for something.
“Essentially, public corruption can be considered one of the forms of extortion,” says our experienced extortion defense attorney in Pittsburgh. “A politician, government employee, or public official who asks for or demands a bribe in exchange for the approval of a request, speeding up the approval process, performance of any other service (which is this public official’s duty) or speeding up that performance is committing extortion.”
To sum it up, extortion takes various forms in Pennsylvania. In our state, extortion is defined as the intentional and malicious taking or withholding of another individual’s property by threatening to:
“The severity of penalties for extortion in Pennsylvania depends on the factual or estimated value of the property involved in the alleged act of extortion,” explains our Pittsburgh extortion defense lawyer at SMT Legal. If the total value of the property that was extorted or could have been extorted was valued at more than $2,000, a prosecutor in Pennsylvania will charge you with a third-degree felony, which carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
On the other hand, if the property was illegally obtained through threat or breach of fiduciary duty, you will be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, which is punishable by imprisonment of up to five years. If the extorted property was valued at less than $2,000, you will be charged with (a) a second-degree misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of up to three years in prison, or (b) a third-degree misdemeanor, which will be punishable by imprisonment of up to 12 months.
We do realize how distressing it is to be reading about all these legal consequences for extortion charges in Pennsylvania, which is why we asked our extortion defense attorney in Pittsburgh to outline extortion defenses available in our state:
Which defense strategy is best for your particular situation depends on the total value of the property involved in the alleged act of distortion, the strength of evidence against you, as well as many other factors. Do not hesitate to get a free consultation from our criminal defense lawyers at SMT Legal by calling our offices at 412-765-3345.