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Elements of Extortion

Extortion is the obtaining of property from another, with his/her consent, induced by the wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, fear, or under color of official right[i].  The Use of a threat in order to obtain money or anything of value constitutes the crime of extortion.  Intent is also regarded as an element of extortion.  Extortion is a specific intent crime.  Generally, a demand or a request for a specific sum of money is not considered a prerequisite to a conviction of extortion[ii].

It was observed in People v. Fort, 138 Mich. App. 322 (Mich. Ct. App. 1984) , that the elements of extortion are:

  • Communication;
  • Threatening accusation of any crime or offense or any injury to the person or property or mother, father, husband, wife, or child of another,
  • With intent to extort money or pecuniary advantage as to compel the person so threatened to do or refrain from doing an act against his/her will.

It is to be noted that a threat is not considered to be necessary for the commission of extortion in common law.  However, in many jurisdictions, the crime of extortion has been expanded to include the obtaining of money, property, or anything of value by any person, by means of a threat.

Generally, a threat means something that ordinarily creates fear.  Fear can be induced by a threat either to do an unlawful injury to the person or property of the individual threatened or of a third person; or to accuse him/her of any crime, or to expose or to impute to him/her any disgrace or crime; or to expose any secret affecting him/her[iii].  The threat may consist of destruction or of injury to a person, his/her character, or his/her property.

A threat is used as a means to obtain money or other things of value for the purpose of gain to the person making the threat.  However, it is not necessary that a person who causes a threat must obtain something for himself/herself.  Even an attempt to obtain something for another person is sufficient for the crime of extortion[iv].

Under the Hobbs Act, proof of actions under color of office is essential to prove the crime and the offense requires the jury to find that the public official did something under color of his/her office to cause the giving of benefits[v].  In other words, to prove the offense of extortion under color of official right in violation of the Hobbs Act, the government need only show that a public official has obtained a payment to which s/he was not entitled, knowing that the payment was made in return for official acts[vi].

[i] United States v. Hooks, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37466 (W.D. Tenn. Dec. 12, 2005).

[ii] People v. Hesslink, 167 Cal. App. 3d 781 (Cal. App. 4th Dist. 1985).

[iii] People v. Oppenheimer, 209 Cal. App. 2d 413 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 1962).

[iv] State v. Taylor, 30 Wn. App. 89 (Wash. Ct. App. 1981).

[v] United States v. Aguon, 813 F.2d 1413 (9th Cir. Guam 1987).

[vi] Evans v. United States, 504 U.S. 255 (U.S. 1992).

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