Extortion can be committed by violence, the threat of violence, the threat of revealing information/secrets or by the threat of accusing someone of a crime, if any of those acts will damage the person, reputation or property of the victim and are for the purpose of gaining property or advantage with the victim’s consent. In other words the threat or harm forces the victim to give up something to the defendant who is extorting them. The threat can be express (directly said) or implied. The consent given to the defendant by the victim must be a result of the threat or violence. The threat or violence does not need to be against the victim directly; it can be against any property or person which would cause the victim to consent.
The threat must be an unlawful threat. For example, if Joe threatens to keep Bill’s car unless Bill agrees to give Joe a thousand dollars, which Bill then gives him, Joe has extorted money from Bill. However, if Joe threatens to put a mechanic’s lien on Bill’s car because Bill has not paid for auto body work that Joe has completed on Bill’s car, the threat can be construed as lawful and therefore not extortion, depending on the circumstances.
Another example of extortion is if Mayor Blue threatens to reveal that Councilman Gray is having an affair with his intern if the Councilman does not vote for Proposition X. While Blue is not getting any money from Gray, he is still gaining advantage by threatening to impugn the reputation of Gray. If Gray then votes for Proposition X based on that threat, Mayor Blue is guilty of extortion. However, if Gray were going to vote in favor of Proposition X regardless of the threat, then Blue is not guilty of extortion as the consent by Gray was not a result of Blue’s threat.
There is no defense of good faith to extortion. Therefore, even if a defendant believed that they had a right to the property they were trying to gain with the threat or violence, it would not be a defense to extortion as it is with other theft crimes.
Elements, crimes and defenses vary from state to state and within the federal system. If you or someone you know is charged with any crime, as always, you should consult a local attorney, licensed to practice in your jurisdiction and preferably one practicing only criminal law. You can always look for your local criminal attorney at http://www.crimelawyers.org.