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Blackmail and Extortion

Extortion By A Public Official, Blackmail And Extortion By A Private Person, Modern Federal Statutes

Extortion refers to obtaining property or compelling action by the use of threats or by the misuse of public office. The terms blackmail and extortion are often used interchangeably; yet in ordinary speech, they connote somewhat different behavior. Blackmail generally refers to hush money, and extortion refers to certain forms of public official misconduct and to those making threats of physical harm to person or property. Few "blackmail" statutes remain on the books, with most statutes prohibiting such behavior as extortion, theft, or criminal coercion.

Extortion is of two types: (1) extortion by threats or fear; and (2) extortion under color of office. Extortion by threats or fear (coercive extortion) can refer to any illegal use of a threat or fear to obtain property or advantages from another, short of violence, which would constitute robbery. Extortion offenses include not only threats obtaining property, but also those compelling any action against one's will (also called criminal coercion).

Statutes usually set out the kinds of threats that make up coercive extortion—for example, the threat to commit a crime, injure person or property, or expose a crime or contemptible information. The distinction traditionally drawn between robbery by intimidation and some forms of extortion is that a person commits robbery when he threatens to do immediate bodily harm, whereas he commits extortion when he plans to do bodily harm in the future. Historically, extortion under color of office is the seeking or receipt of a corrupt payment by a public official (or a pretended public official) because of his office or his ability to influence official action.



Enmons v. United States, 410 U.S. 396 (1973).

Evans v. United States, 504 U.S. 257 (1991).

McCormick v. United States, 500 U.S. 257 (1991).

United States v. Teamsters Local 807, 315 U.S. 521 (1942).

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law