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Extortion vs. Blackmail: What’s The Difference?

Posted on December 18, 2013 by Mintzer Law

The similarities between extortion and blackmail frequently lead to people confusing the two. Both are theft crimes involving threats, but there are differences in the conduct prohibited by the Texas Penal Code for each crime.

Extortion

Extortion is a theft crime involving the use of coercion to obtain money, property or services from a victim. Coercion is usually in the form of a threat of violence, a threat to destroy property or a threat that of improper government action if the victim does not comply. Some criminal laws include threats to withhold testimony in a legal proceeding as a form of coercion. Most states categorize extortion as a misdemeanor or a felony based upon the value of the property or the amount of money taken from the victim.

Prior to the enactment of criminal statutes, extortion existed under the common law as a crime that only public officials could commit. Extortion usually involved a public official refusing to perform an official act without the payment of money. For example, a building inspector who refuses to approve a new building for occupancy without receiving a cash payment from the builder could be guilty of extortion.

Blackmail

Blackmail is similar to extortion in that it is usually classified as a larceny or theft crime and involves the making of a threat as the prohibited conduct. Unlike extortion, blackmail does not include threats of violence to a person or property. Instead, blackmail is when an offender threatens to disclose embarrassing information or information that is potentially damaging to a person’s standing in the community, family or social relationships, or professional career unless the victim surrenders money, property or services.

The fact that the information an offender threatens to reveal is true or accurate is not a defense to a blackmail charge. The key element of a blackmail charge is the threat to reveal the information unless something of value is paid to the offender.

Penalties for Extortion and Blackmail

Both extortion and blackmail are similar in that prosecutors and judges treat them as serious violations of the criminal laws. Punishment usually includes a prison sentence or probation, fines and restitution.

Extortion & blackmail are serious crimes. If law enforcement is accusing you of committing either of these crimes, then you need to speak to a qualified legal representative. Get a hold of Rand Mintzer at 713-862-8880.