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Extortion By Public Officers

The essence of extortion by a public officer is the oppressive use of official position to obtain a fee. The officer falsely claims authority to take that to which he or she is not lawfully entitled. This is known as acting under color of office. For example, a highway department officer who collects money from a tax delinquent automobile owner in excess of the authorized amount on the pretense of collecting a fine is extorting money under color of office. The victim, although consenting to payment, is not doing so voluntarily but is yielding to official authority.

There are four basic ways in which a public officer commits extortion. The officer might demand a fee not allowed by law and accept it under the guise of performing an official duty. He or she might take a fee greater than that allowed by law. In this case the victim must at least believe that he or she is under an obligation to pay some amount. A third method is for the officer to receive a fee before it is due. The crime is committed regardless of whether the sum taken is likely to become due in the future. It is not criminal, however, for an officer to collect a fee before it is due if the person paying so requests. Finally, extortion may be committed by the officer's taking a fee for services that are not performed. The service refrained from must be one within the official capacity of the officer in order to constitute extortion.

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