Extortion is the act of obtaining money or property by threatening, intimidating, or by false claim of right. Crimes of extortion including blackmail, bribery, and ransom are generally considered felony crimes. Felony crimes are met with severe consequences. Most jurisdictions have their own statutes governing extortion. Extortion is generally punished by a fine or imprisonment, or both. Under federal and state laws, extortion carries up to a 20-year prison sentence. The punishment for extortion depends on whether force was used in extorting money or other property.
Generally, individuals charged with extortion faces serious penalties, including:
- Heavy fines;
- Prison sentence;
- Probation or parole; and
- Restitution for the victims
Extortion is also a federal offense when it interferes with interstate commerce. As a federal offense, extortion is punishable by a fine, imprisonment, or both. Where the offense is committed by a public officer, the penalty may include forfeiture of office. According to the Hobbs Act[i], whoever commits extortion can be fined and imprisoned for not more than twenty years.
Moreover, the Federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, provides forfeiture as a punishment for extortion. The RICO Act provides that when a person engages in a prohibited activity, the Act will forfeit to the U.S.:
- interest the person has acquired or maintained in violation of the RICO Act;
- interest or property or contractual right of any kind affording a source of influence over any enterprise which the person has established in violation of the RICO Act ; and
- property constituting, or derived from, any proceeds which the person obtained, directly or indirectly, from racketeering activity or unlawful debt collection in violation of the RICO Act[ii].
The property subject to criminal forfeiture includes real property. Property includes things growing on, affixed to, and found in land, and tangible and intangible personal property. Additionally, property includes rights, privileges, interests, claims, and securities[iii]. District Courts can pass restraining orders in forfeiture process. The court can require performance bonds in connection with property which will be subject to forfeiture when the defendant is convicted[iv].
For a simple kind of extortion, the punishment is imprisonment up to 3 years or a fine or both. When fear of injury is involved in any extortion, the minimum punishment is 5 years imprisonment which may extend up to 14 years or a fine or both. When extortion is caused putting a person in fear of death or of grievous hurt then punishment can extend to imprisonment for life and shall not be less than seven years and a fine. Moreover, when extortion is committed by threat of accusation of an offense punishable with death or imprisonment for life, the accused may be punished either with ten years imprisonment or with imprisonment for life. Additionally, when the accusation is of an unnatural offense then the penalty provided is more severe.
[i] 18 USCS § 1951.
[ii] 18 USCS § 1963.
[iii] 18 USCS § 1963(b).
[iv] 18 USCS § 1963(f),(g).