What is extortion? Blackmail secrets exposed by a scorned lover, “protection” offered in exchange for money by someone with ties to organized crime, threats towards or intimidation of close family members by individuals in a gang: all of these are classic examples of extortion. In Washington State, extortion is a serious crime, classified as a felony and punishable by significant jail time or fines.
The Definition of “Extortion”
The Revised Code of Washington states that extortion “means knowingly to obtain or attempt to obtain by threat property or services of the owner, and specifically includes sexual favors.” See RCW 9A.56.110. Under this definition, any attempt – successful or not – to force someone else to give up money, property, or their services, through the threat of violence or some other harm to that person or their reputation, is extortion. The fact that the victim may actually consent to giving up the requested property or services (usually so as to avoid the threatened violence) does not change the fact that the crime of extortion has been committed. The key element – the use of a “threat” to get the property or services – is unaffected by the victim's consent.
In Washington State, there are two levels of extortion: extortion in the first degree and extortion in the second degree. Each is classified as a felony, with extortion in the first degree being the more serious crime. Determining which degree of extortion applies in a particular situation requires identifying the type of threat used.
Extortion in the First Degree
According to RCW 9A.56.120(1) and RCW 9A.04.110(28)(a)-(c), a person is guilty of extortion in the first degree if he or she obtains or attempts to obtain someone else's property or services through the use of one of the following three threats:
- A threat to cause future bodily injury to the victim or any other person;
- A threat to cause physical damage to the victim's or someone else's property (though not the property of the person making the threat); or
- A threat to physically confine or restrain the victim or any other person.
- A threat to accuse someone of a crime;
- A threat to expose some fact that, whether true or false, would subject the victim to hatred or ridicule;
- A threat to reveal a victim's secret;
- A threat to testify (or withhold testimony) regarding someone else's legal claim or defense;
- A threat to take wrongful action as an official (or not to act);
- A threat to start a strike or boycott; or
- A threat to do “any other act” that is intended to substantially harm the victim's or any other person's health, safety, business, financial condition, or personal relationships.
These threats cover many of the situations commonly thought of as extortion, for example: a threat that the victim or a member of his or her family will physically suffer later if they don't “pay up” now, as well as a threat to damage a victim's car if he or she does not provide some service. Notice that the violence or damage threatened to come in the future does not have to be incurred by the victim himself or herself. A threat to injure a victim's family member or close friend in order to get the victim to produce some property or service is sufficient to meet the legal requirements for extortion. Note also that this definition covers any attempt – successful or not – to gain any property or services. This could be money, jewelry, vehicles, the victim's time and labor, even sexual favors. See RCW 9A.56.110.
Extortion in the first degree is a Class B felony, which is punishable by confinement in a state correctional facility for up to ten years. See RCW 9A.56.120(2) andRCW 9A.20.021(1)(b). Adult offenders can also face a fine of up to $20,000, which can be levied instead of, or in addition to, jail time.
Extortion in the Second Degree
Slightly less serious, but still quite significant, is the crime of extortion in the second degree. RCW 9A.56.130(1) and RCW 9A.04.110(28)(d)-(j) declare a person guilty of extortion in the second degree if he or she obtains or attempts to obtain the property or services of another person through the use of one of the following seven threats:
As is evident from this long list of threats, extortion in the second degree encompasses a large variety of behaviors. Blackmail – the crime of forcing someone to pay money to prevent the release of damaging documents or information – falls under this type of extortion. So too, does a threat by an official that they will act (or refrain from acting) in a particular way if certain bribes are not paid.
Extortion in the second degree is a Class C felony, which is punishable by confinement in a state correctional facility for up to five years. See RCW 9A.56.130(3) andRCW 9A.20.021(1)(c). Similar to extortion in the first degree, adult offenders may face a fine of up to $10,000, instead of, or in addition to, incarceration.
“Let My Extensive Experience as a Former Prosecutor Work For You.”
Extortion is a serious felony crime, which carries equally serious consequences in the form of potential jail time and fines. If you or a loved one has been arrested for, or charged with, extortion in Western Washington, contact experienced criminal defense attorney Steve Karimi today for help. Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor who is committed to using his experience and knowledge of prosecution strategies to work for you in your case. He represents people facing all kinds of felony charges and is dedicated to protecting your rights. Don't wait to call, contact the Law Office of Steve Karimi today at 206-621-8777 to schedule a free and confidential initial consultation, or call our 24-hour hotline at 206-660-6200.