The crime of extortion involves someone attempting to obtain something from another person through certain threats enumerated in the following statute:
- “Malicious threats to extort money—Any person who shall, either orally or by a written or printed communication, maliciously threaten to accuse another of any crime or offense, or shall orally or by any written or printed communication maliciously threaten any injury to the person or property or mother, father, husband, wife or child of another with intent thereby to extort money or any pecuniary advantage whatever, or with intent to compel the person so threatened to do or refrain from doing any act against his will, shall be guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment in the state prison not more than 20 years or by a fine of not more than 10,000 dollars.” MCL 750.213.
A conviction for extortion can lead to a lengthy incarceration in state prison.
ELEMENTS OF EXTORTION
An individual is guilty of extortion in Michigan, contrary to MCL 750.213, if the prosecutor can prove all of the following beyond a reasonable doubt (See Model Criminal Jury Instruction 21.2):
- First, that the individual threatened to accuse someone else of committing a criminal offense or threatened to injure another person (or his or her property or close family member).
- “A threat for the purpose of extortion is a written or spoken statement of an intent to injure another person or that person’s property or family. A threat does not have to be stated in any particular words. It can be said in general or vague terms, without saying exactly what kind of injury is being threatened. It can also be made by suggestion. However, a threat has to be definite enough to be understood by a person of ordinary intelligence as being a threat of injury.” M Crim JI 21.3.
- “Because the plain language of MCL 750.213 requires that a defendant maliciously threaten harm to another with the intent to compel that person “to do or refrain from doing any act against his will,” the level of significance or seriousness of the consequences of the compelled act to the victim is immaterial.” People v Harris, 495 Mich 120, 140-141; 845 NW2d 477 (2014).
- Second, that the individual made this threat by saying it or writing it down. A gesture alone is not enough.
- Third, that the individual made the threat willfully, without just cause or excuse, and with the intent to get money by doing it or make the person threatened do or not do something against the person’s will, or some other goal.
- “A person acts against his or her will if he or she only does the act in order to avoid injury to himself or herself or a member of his or her immediate family or to avoid personal disgrace. In other words, an act is against a person’s will when circumstances force him or her to make a choice and he or she has to choose the lesser of two evils.” M Crim JI 21.4.
- “A person does an act or refrains from doing an act against his will when, with apparent willingness, he does the act with the understanding that thereby he will be saved from some personal injury to himself or a member of his immediate family or saved from personal disgrace, doing such act as the lesser of two unpleasant alternatives, notwithstanding the fact that he may mentally protest against the circumstances which compel the choice.” People v Krist, 97 Mich App 669, 673; 296 NW2d 139 (1980).
“THE TRUTH OF THE CRIMINAL ACCUSATION AND ABANDONMENT OF INTENT TO INJURE ARE NOT LEGAL DEFENSES
If an individual threatens to accuse someone else with a crime with the intent to get money or make the threatened person do something against their will, it is not a defense that the criminal accusation was actually true. In People v Maranian, 359 Mich 361; 102 NW2d 568 (1960), the defendant attempted to argue that it is not extortion to attempt to compel the payment of a debt that was illegally and fraudulently incurred, but the Michigan Court of Appeals disagreed:
- “In the event the debt was fraudulently incurred, the courts provide a legal and proper forum in which to determine whether or not it is fraudulent, and if so, afford a possible method of collection. The collection of a valid, enforceable debt does not permit malicious threats of injury to one’s person, loved ones, or property if payment is not made. Such acts, if proven, would constitute extortion within the frame-work of the statute under which defendant was charged.” Maranian, 359 Mich at 369.
Likewise, it is not a defense for the defendant to claim that he gave up or abandoned his intent to injure the other person after the threat is made. The crime is complete once the individual makes a threat to accuse someone of a crime or harm that person (or their property or immediate family). It doesn’t matter if the threat was successful, or if the other person was actually afraid, or if the other person complied with the threat.
- “If the threat be of the kind referred to in the statute, and is made with the intent thereby to extort money, or with the intent to accomplish any of the other objects mentioned therein, the crime has been committed. The language is explicit and is not subject to any exceptions or qualifications. The legislature did not make the commission of the offense dependent upon the state of mind of the person threatened, and there is no occasion for reading into the statute qualifications not there found. If it had been intended that to constitute the offense the person threatened was intimidated or must have understood and appreciated the fact that he was so threatened with the intent to extort money from him, or to accomplish any other purpose set forth in the statute, it is the rational inference that it would have been so declared.” People v Percin, 330 Mich 94, 99-100; 47 NW2d 29 (1951).
EXTORTION IS A SERIOUS CRIMINAL OFFENSE, BUT A SKILLED LAWYER IN YOUR CORNER CAN ASSIST YOU IN GETTING A FAVORABLE OUTCOME
Although extortion is a major felony crime, there are possible defenses that can be raised which may lead to an acquittal:
- THREAT DOES NOT MEET TECHNICAL REQUIREMENTS OF STATUTE: If the alleged threats made do not amount to accusing someone of a crime or to cause injury to person and/or property unless an act is performed against the other person’s will, then an extortion has not occurred. A threat made without a demand for the other person to do something may only be simple assault punishable as a misdemeanor.
- NO THREAT WAS SUFFICIENTLY COMMUNICATED: The prosecutor has to prove that the defendant clearly stated a threat orally or in writing to another person where a reasonable person might understood a threat was communication. A hand gesture or a similar inference is not enough.
Even if the evidence against you is strong, a good criminal defense lawyer may be able to negotiate a favorable outcome with the prosecutor such as a plea to a reduced offense or a sentencing agreement. The stakes are too high with an extortion charge to leave anything to chance. You cannot settle for less than the best defense on your side to match the power of the prosecutor and the police.
If you or a loved one is accused of any crime and need legal representation, then do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC for assistance today.