The crime of extortion or blackmail is basically a taking of another’s property through coercion or threats. North Carolina treats extortion or blackmail as a serious crime, and a person convicted of extortion or blackmail can spend many months or even years in jail. If you are facing a charge of extortion or blackmail, an experienced defense attorney will know how the law applies to the facts of your case. Contact Mr. Rosensteel today so that he can begin determining the best course of action for you.
A person violates the extortion statute in North Carolina (G.S. 14-118.4) when he threatens a person with the intent to wrongfully obtain something of value. For example, a defendant can commit extortion by threatening to reveal embarrassing photos of another person if that other person doesn’t pay him a certain amount of money. Another example of extortion might be a county inspector who threatens to withhold the granting of a liquor license to a business owner if the business owner doesn’t pay him a certain amount of money.
A person who commits extortion is guilty of a Class F felony. North Carolina law provides that a person who commits a Class F felony must be sentenced to punishment between 10 and 41 months, depending on prior convictions. A person with no prior convictions may receive intermediate punishment, but any person convicted of a Class F felony may receive active jail time.
To prove that a person committed the crime of extortion, the following elements must be shown:
- the defendant threatened or communicated a threat to the victim.
- the defendant did this with the intent to obtain something of value, an acquittance, an advantage, or an immunity.
- the defendant intended to obtain the thing of value wrongfully, that is, knowing that he was not entitled to obtain it in this manner.
Many states have only an extortion statute, which covers what we might commonly think of as blackmail. North Carolina, however, has a separate statute titled blackmail. The blackmail statute (G.S. 14-118) is divided into two parts. A person can violate the statute by either (1) sending a writing which demands of a person with threats some property or (2) sending a writing which threatens to accuse a person of a crime “with the intent to extort or gain” some property from the person.
A person who violates the blackmail statute commits a Class 1 misdemeanor. North Carolina statute provides that a person who commits a Class 1 misdemeanor receives a sentence between 1 day and 120 days, depending on their prior convictions. A person with no prior convictions cannot receive more than a 45-day sentence, and this sentence must be community punishment. However, it is possible for a person with one or more prior convictions to receive active jail time as a punishment.
To prove that a person committed blackmail by accusation of crime, the following elements must be shown:
- the defendant knowingly accused or threatened to accuse the victim of a crime.
- the defendant did this with the intent to gain or extort from the victim property of some sort.
To prove that a person committed blackmail other than by accusation of crime, the following elements must be shown:
- the defendant knowingly sent a writing to the victim.
- the writing demanded of the victim property of some sort.
- the writing contained threats.
- the defendant had no probable cause or reason to believe that he was entitled to this property.
Generally, actions that constitute a violation of the blackmail statute will also constitute a violation of the extortion statute. The North Carolina Court of Appeals explained in 1989 that the blackmail statute “has been codified in substantially the same form since 1854.” The extortion statute was enacted in 1973. The rules of construction that govern the interpretation of criminal statutes state:
[W]hen a new penal statute practically covers the whole subject of a prior penal act, and embraces new provisions, plainly and manifestly showing that it was the legislative intent for the later act to supersede the prior act, and to be a substitute therefor, comprising the sole and complete system of legislation on the subject, the later act will operate as a repeal of the prior act.
State v. Greenspan (NC App 1989)
In other words, “[a] later penal statute repeals a former one when it covers the same acts but fixes a different penalty or substantially redefines the offense.” Therefore, the court of appeals concluded that the extortion statute supersedes the blackmail statute and that the defendant in that case was properly indicted under the extortion statute rather than the blackmail statute.
It is not a defense to this element that a defendant had a right or even a duty to do the threatened act, so long as the threat was used to wrongfully obtain an advantage. For example, a policeman who threatens to arrest a person who stole money unless that person gives the policeman the stolen money can still violate the extortion statute.
This element is satisfied when a defendant does not reasonably believe that he was entitled to the property. The North Carolina Court of Appeals has explained that “[t]he wrongful intent required by the statute refers to the obtaining of property and not to the threat itself.” If a defendant threatens to have a person charged with a crime unless that other person pays him, it is not relevant to the defendant’s intent whether the victim was actually guilty of the crime or not.
If you have been charged with extortion or blackmail, contact an attorney at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC (704) 714-1450, to discuss your options.