The words “blackmail” and “extortion” are often used interchangeably, but although these crimes are very similar in intent, there is a distinction between them in terms of severity. Blackmail could be considered a less extreme form of extortion, although still considered a crime in Alaska.
Extortion aims to obtain money, or other assets, from someone through some kind of threat or coercion or through impersonating a police officer or other authority figure against that person’s will. The threat may be of physical violence, arrest or prosecution, or an attempt to reveal some kind of information about someone that could harm their standing in the community. When the threat is to reveal information that could be embarrassing to someone to a family member, friends or to the public, then this less extreme form of extortion is generally called blackmail. In some states, blackmail is a crime of extortion carried out by a private individual, whereas the crime of extortion is something that is carried out by a public official.
In Alaska, AS § 11.41.520 is the statute that covers the precise definition of what constitutes extortion. There is no separate crime of blackmail, so this is included within the definition of extortion in Alaska. The crime of extortion is classified as a Class B felony. This means that a conviction for extortion could mean up to ten years in a state prison and as much as $100,000 in fines. Note that when an act of extortion involves an attempt to obtain money or property across state boundaries, typically through the use of phone calls or the Internet, then this is more likely to be a federal crime.
Extortion, theft and robbery
All of these are crimes and are related because the intention is similar. However, there are differences. For someone to be accused of theft, money or property must be obtained illegally from someone else. Theft often takes place by stealth, i.e. the owner of whatever is stolen may not be present and unaware that the theft is taking place. Pickpocketing and shoplifting are simple and common examples of theft. Robbery is a type of theft involving direct physical conflict with the victim. Someone accused of robbery may have confronted the victim with a weapon or with the direct use of force to obtain money or property that doesn’t belong to them.
Extortion may be considered a crime even if no money or property is actually stolen by deception or threat of force. The intent to obtain money illegally is enough to be considered extortion.
Examples of extortion
Extortion could be a one-off crime, e.g. when a person threatens to reveal incriminating information about a political or celebrity for money.
In some cases, extortion may be attributed to a criminal organization that threatens a business with violence unless it pays “protection” money. The extortion in this case may be on-going.
Some forms of extortion can be very sophisticated involving Internet scams. Ransomware involves the use of malicious software or malware to infect computers and make them unusable unless a ‘ransom’ is paid, usually in a digital currency such as Bitcoin. One of the most recent cases of this form of extortion was the use of the malware dubbed “Wannacry” that reportedly infected tens of thousands of computers worldwide.
Defense against extortion
As with any other alleged crime, you cannot be prosecuted without suitable evidence. There must be proof “beyond reasonable doubt” that you committed the crime of extortion.
In most cases when an alleged offense of extortion is dismissed, there is insufficient evidence that you intended to obtain property through extortion. An allegation may have been made in the heat of an argument, or when you were drunk or intoxicated, for example. A criminal defense attorney, in this case, would attempt to show that you made no serious attempt to commit a crime.
Even if there is some evidence available that could incriminate you, it must be admissible, i.e. the evidence must have been obtained legitimately and not by deception. For example, when you were arrested, if you were not read your “Miranda Rights,” the arrest may be considered illegal. If a search of your person or property was made without a warrant, then any evidence may also be inadmissible.
If you have been arrested for extortion, but believe you are innocent, or elements of the allegation against you are untrue, you should contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Dattan Scott Dattan will fight to represent you in court. You can contact the Law Office of Dattan Scott Dattan in Anchorage at 907-276-8008.