Is Sexual Extortion a Crime in California?

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Yes, sexual extortion is a crime in California. Sexual extortion, also called sextortion, is a form of blackmail that involves sexual conduct or images of intimate body parts. Sextortion laws make the offense a felony and impose harsh criminal penalties for a conviction.

Whether you are accused of sexual extortion or receiving threats of sexual extortion, you want to know the following:

  • What is sextortion?;
  • Is sexual extortion a crime?;
  • What are the sextortion penalties in California?; and 
  • What legal defenses apply to sextortion accusations?

Our sextortion defense lawyers at The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, can answer all your questions in an initial consultation.

What Is Sexual Extortion?

Before you can understand sexual extortion, you need to understand the general offense of extortion. California Penal Code section 518 defines extortion as taking property or other consideration from another person with their consent by a wrongful use of force or threats. Extortion transforms to sextortion when the consideration demanded involves:

  • Sexual conduct, or
  • An image of an intimate body part.

In California, sexual conduct means any of the following:

  • Sexual intercourse;
  • Penetration of the vagina or rectum with any object;
  • Masturbation for the purpose of sexual stimulation of the viewer;
  • Sadomasochistic abuse for the purpose of sexual stimulation of the viewer;
  • Exhibition of genitals or the pubic or rectal area for purposes of sexual stimulation of the viewer; and
  • Defecation or urination for the purpose of sexual stimulation of the viewer.

An intimate body part includes any portion of genitalia, the anus, or any portion of a woman’s breast below the top of the areola.

Examples of Sexual Extortion

One example of sexual extortion occurs when someone threatens another person with physical harm if they do not perform a sexual act.

Another example of sexual extortion is when someone threatens to reveal compromising information about someone unless they send them a photo of their intimate areas. Threats amounting to extortion or blackmail include threats to:

  • Cause injury to the alleged victim or a third party;
  • Accuse the victim or a member of their family of committing a crime;
  • Accuse the victim or a member of their family of an immoral act or deformity;
  • Expose a secret; or
  • Expose the immigration status of the victim.

Penalties for Sexual Extortion

Extortion and sexual extortion are felony offenses in California. Sextortion is punishable by two, three, or four years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Attempted sextortion is a wobbler offense, meaning the prosecutor decides whether it is a misdemeanor or felony.

As a felony, attempted sextortion is punishable by sixteen months, two years, or three years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. As a misdemeanor, attempted sextortion is punishable by up to one year in jail.

Defenses to Sextortion Accusations

A legal defense may apply that negates an element of the sexual extortion charge. A valid defense can help your attorney convince the prosecutor to reduce your charges or dismiss them entirely. Valid legal defenses to sexual extortion charges include:

  • The accused did not request sexual conduct or intimate photos from the alleged victim;
  • No threats or force were used against the victim;
  • The victim made false accusations against the accused;
  • The victim did not commit the sexual act or send the intimate photo requested by the accused; or
  • The accused received consent to perform a sexual act.

The prosecution bears the burden of proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Our team will emphasize the weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case to make their case against you harder to win. 

Why Should I Hire a Sextortion Attorney?

A sexual extortion attorney gives you the best opportunity to negotiate with the prosecutor to reduce or dismiss your charges. An extortion lawyer can offer several benefits to your case, such as: 

  • Negotiating with the prosecutor about your charges,
  • Finding witnesses to testify on your behalf,
  • Preparing a valid legal defense for your case, and
  • Explaining the charges filed against you.

The best way to minimize the penalties for sexual extortion is by hiring an experienced lawyer to defend you

Charged with Violating Penal Code Section 518 in California? Contact The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong Today

Law enforcement takes sexual extortion accusations very seriously, and so should you. Hiring a skilled attorney is the best way to defend your rights and avoid negative consequences.

Our team of criminal defense lawyers at The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, knows its way around sexual extortion accusations in California. Contact our office today to schedule an appointment with a member of our team.

Where You Can Find Our San Diego Office

Frequently Asked Questions

Facing a criminal accusation can be confusing and traumatic. Our team has compiled answers to some frequently asked questions to help you navigate the process. If you have other questions, contact The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong to speak to an experienced attorney.

Do I Have to Register as a Sex Offender for a Sexual Extortion Conviction?

No, you do not have to register as a sex offender if you receive a sexual extortion conviction. A conviction for certain sex crimes requires the accused to register as a sex offender, such as:

  • Sexual assault,
  • Incest,
  • Molestation of a child, or
  • Possession of child pornography.

Sexual extortion is not a sex crime under California law. Just because sexual extortion is not a sex crime does not mean you should take it lightly. A conviction can still impact your future job opportunities and land you in jail. 

Where Do I Find Sextortion Defense Lawyers?

You can start your search for a sextortion defense lawyer by doing a simple internet search. Make sure you focus on attorneys who handle criminal defense cases. A qualified criminal defense lawyer brings a wealth of specialized knowledge of the local legal system, its players, and the specific statutes that govern sexual extortion in California. 

Furthermore, a skilled attorney can effectively manage every aspect of your defense, from negotiating advantageous plea deals to advocating for lesser charges. 

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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