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Making Threats Is Extortion, Except When It’s Your Job


In certain professions, it is your job to lie.  You would not make it very far as a hairstylist, politician, call girl, or professional gambler if your words and your facial expressions always revealed the truth.  Of course, the First Amendment right to freedom of speech protects your right to say things that you know are false in many circumstances.  Much as lies are not a crime except when they are, whether or not a verbal threat is a crime also depends on contexts.  In many cases, it is possible to face criminal charges when you make a credible threat of physical violence, but what about when the thing you are threatening to do does not involve bodily injury?  If you are being accused of extortion, contact a West Palm Beach white collar crime lawyer.

Florida Extortion Laws

According to Florida law, extortion is a second-degree felony.  The maximum sentence for a conviction is 15 years in state prison, 15 years on probation, and a $10,000 fine.  As for the legal definition, it is much broader than simply including threats of physical violence, and you can still be convicted of extortion if you do not pressure the alleged victim to give you money.  You can be convicted of extortion if you use coercive tactics to get the victim to do anything or refrain from doing anything against the victim’s will, such as pressuring the victim to remove political campaign signs from his front yard or lie to your wife so she doesn’t find out about your extramarital affair.  The coercive acts could include threats of physical violence, threats of property destruction, threats of legal action in civil or criminal court, or threats to publicize true or untrue damaging information about the victim.

The Hobbs Act, Litigation Privilege, and Other Legal Gray Areas

Charges of extortion only apply if the defendant made credible threats, so you may be able to use the “idle threats” defense.  It isn’t extortion when your housemate takes too long in the shower, so you shout through the door, “I’m telling the cops you bought your Adderall on Facebook Marketplace if you don’t come out in ten seconds!”  Likewise, you can use the defense of “litigation privilege” if you actually threatened to sue someone, but you did this by having your lawyer write a letter notifying them of your intent to sue, after your lawyer told you that you had grounds for a lawsuit.

In other words, when lawyers threaten to sue, it is just part of their job.  Thus, when labor unions threaten to strike in response to unsatisfactory labor conditions, it is part of their job.  Some union members have faced charges for extortion under the Hobbs Act, a federal law that expands the definition of extortion to include not only intentional destruction of property but also any action meant to cause financial harm to the victim; courts have applied the Hobbs Act to cases where workers threatened to disrupt commerce through a labor strike.

Contact a West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

Attorney William Wallshein has more than 39 years of experience, including five years as a prosecutor in Palm Beach County.  Contact William Wallshein P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida to discuss your case.



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