What Is the California Extortion Law?

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Extortion in California

Extortion, which is the legal term for blackmail, is a crime that occurs more frequently than one might believe. Extortion and blackmail occur every day in California. 

Essentially, extortion is using an unlawful threat or force to get someone to give you something or do something out of fear. 

California’s extortion law is highly complicated and nuanced. A San Diego County extortion and blackmail defense lawyer with extensive trial experience can protect your rights aggressively.  Contact us today if you face extortion charges or if you believe you are under investigation for extortion in California.

California Extortion Law

California Penal Code sections 518-527 is California’s extortion and blackmail law. According to section 518, extortion in California includes taking property, money, or something of value using a threat or force that does not amount to robbery. Using a position of authority to obtain something of value or threatening a public official to get them to perform an official act or refrain from performing an official act is also extortion. 

Something of value under California extortion law can include a sexual favor or a picture of an intimate body part. 

An extortion threat raises fear in the alleged victim to such a degree that the alleged victim complies with the demand. Section 519 of the California extortion law indicates that threats amounting to extortion or blackmail include threats to:

  • Cause injury to the person threatened or a third-party;
  • Accuse the person or the person’s family member of committing a crime;
  • Impute to the alleged victim, or accuse the alleged victim, of an immoral act, crime, or deformity;
  • Expose a secret; or
  • Expose the immigration status of the victim.

Extortion in California may be committed by sending a letter or obtaining a signature by an extortion method.

The prosecutor has the exclusive burden to prove each element of extortion beyond a reasonable doubt.

Penalties for Being Charged with Extortion Under California Law

Extortion can be either a felony or misdemeanor under California law, depending on the circumstances of the crime. Section 520 indicates that committing extortion, which is not carjacking or robbery, is a felony. A person convicted of extortion using a threat specified in Section 519 faces incarceration in “local prison” for two, three, or four years, as indicated by Penal Code section 1170(h).

However, Section 525 indicates that extortion committed against a disabled or elderly person is an aggravating sentencing factor. Committing extortion by abusing your official authority is a misdemeanor.

An attempt to commit extortion, which is a lesser-included offense of extortion, is a misdemeanor. Misdemeanor extortion is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for one year and a fine not to exceed $1,000.

How to Defend Charges Brought Under California Extortion and Blackmail Law

Hiring a San Diego County criminal defense attorney who has defended hundreds of cases before California courts can protect your rights if you face extortion charges under California extortion and blackmail law. The most successful extortion defense depends on the unique circumstances of each case. Common defenses include:

  • Arguing that the alleged victim was not coerced into performing an act;
  • Showing that the force or fear did not compel the alleged victim to act;
  • Attacking the alleged victim’s credibility;
  • Entrapment;
  • Arguing that the person who made the alleged threat had the legal right to do so; and
  • Moving to suppress evidence or statements obtained by police in violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights.

No two cases are identical. Some defenses might apply in one case but not others.

Hire a San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney

There is no substitute for experience. Contact the California extortion and blackmail defense lawyers with the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, at 619-234-2300 now. We have the experience to aggressively defend your case to minimize the potential consequences of an extortion charge or avoid the prosecution altogether. You can rely on our attorneys to offer you the support you need to make it through this challenging time in your life. 

Author Photo

Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.

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