What are the Penalties for Extortion?

V. Saxena

Extortion is a federal offense that involves using coercion to elicit monetary gain in the form of money or property. The penalties for this crime can range from simple fines and community service to a lengthy prison sentence, depending on its severity and whether or not it involved interstate commerce. Interstate commerce refers to instances in which a party from one state attempts to coerce a party from another state.

Someone with no prior criminal history would most likely face nothing more than a misdemeanor charge for blackmail.
Someone with no prior criminal history would most likely face nothing more than a misdemeanor charge for blackmail.

An individual can only typically be charged with extortion if there is written, digital, or verbal evidence, such as a handwritten letter, a printed e-mail, or a recorded conversation, that proves the individual tried to engage in blackmail or coercion. Without such evidence, it is extremely difficult to prove. Prosecutors aren’t concerned about whether the individual went through with the threat, and the threat itself is enough to warrant a court penalty.

Extortion is a federal offense, in the United States, and the penalties for it remain fairly consistent across all fifty states. Penalties are in part determined by the grade of the crime, which is considered either a felony or misdemeanor. Factors determining which grade of it that an individual is charged with include his criminal history and the seriousness of the charge.

If an individual with no prior criminal history were to engage in petty blackmail and coercion, he would likely only face a misdemeanor charge. This charge would carry with it a sentence of probation and restitution. The individual would be forced to pay back any gains he made from the extortion threats.

Individuals with a long criminal record who are accused a serious or even petty case of extortion will often automatically face felony charges. Such a serious charge usually carries a prison sentence between 1 and 20 years. Prison sentences are dependent on the location in which it occurred.

Since extortion can potentially cripple one’s life and career, individuals who are charged with it should seek the counsel of a well-trained attorney. With the help of an experienced lawyer, even a seasoned criminal charged with a felony could manage to obtain probation. There is, however, no guarantee of a lighter sentence with good counsel.

The best way to avoid having to deal with any sentence is to avoid extortion altogether. This entails not issuing threats, no matter how trivial the threats may seem. A prosecutor could interpret any benign threat or petty attempt at blackmail as a serious case of extortion worthy of a criminal proceeding.

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Discussion Comments


@indemnifyme - I'm sorry that happened to your friend. I do think a misdemeanor charge is appropriate in the case of petty extortion and blackmail though.

One thing you should keep in mind is that the victim can always sue the perpetrator in a civil court. If the person was convicted, the plaintiff has a good chance of winning the suit. If it hasn't been too long maybe you should urge your friend to sue her blackmailer for damages!


I really feel that the penalties for extortion should be fairly severe. I don't think any extortion or blackmail should be considered a misdemeanor.

I had a friend who was blackmailed out of several hundred dollars a few years ago. Yes, she lost money, but she was also affected emotionally by the extortion too. Eventually she realized that the information the person was blackmailing her with wasn't that bad, so she went to the authorities.

Unfortunately, her blackmailer didn't have a criminal history and got off with a misdemeanor charge. They didn't even go to jail, they only got probation. It just seems extremely unfair to me!

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