Extortion law pertains to a category of illegal transactions in which one party is motivated to engage because she is threatened with bad consequences if she acts otherwise. Sometimes making the threats is enough to constitute this crime. Although criminal codes outlining this crime differ, a wide range of threats may allow for charges to be brought against a person for extortion. Proving that the offense occurred may be difficult, however.
There are several misconceptions about extortion law, such as the belief that the crime is limited to violent threats. Violence, or even the threat of violence, is not generally necessary to constitute this crime. Victims may be lured into these transactions due to the threats that information will be revealed that can damage their careers, reputations, or marriages. The crime can also involve a victim being threatened that a person will testify against her in a criminal proceeding or report her illegal status to immigration authorities. A person who is subjected to fear that her property will be harmed may even be a victim of extortion.
Another common misconception is that for extortion law to be violated, the accused must have demanded money from his victim. Actually, in most jurisdictions, a person can be guilty of this crime for demanding numerous types of property including jewelry, cars, or artwork. Furthermore, the demand for a person to do something can qualify in this criminal category. For example, a person who is threatened into signing a contract or performing sexual acts may be deemed a victim of extortion.
One aspect of extortion that tends to vary from one jurisdiction to another is the point at which the crime occurs. In some places, when the illegal demand or proposition is made, a crime has been committed. In other places, an exchange must occur before a person can be convicted under extortion law. Extortion is often difficult to prove because the only evidence available may be the testimony of the victim. This is especially true when charges are based solely on a threat and the exchange has not occurred.
In some places extortion law has changed dramatically. It is believed that this crime was derived from Common Law. Under that legal system, extortion was a crime that was limited to public officials. They committed the act when they misused their authority for personal gain. Over time, some criminal codes have expanded to allow regular citizens to be charged with extortion. Others maintain the original essence of the crime.