The Crime of Extortion and the Subjective View

In Florida, extortion can be a difficult crime to prosecute because many of the elements of the crime require a subjective definition. This is largely because the crime of extortion requires that the extorter threatens another in a “malicious” manner, looking to cause “injury” to the property or reputation of the person who is being extorted. Additionally, extortion can also include any malicious threats that could expose the victim to disgrace, expose a secret affair or family relation, to share details of a medical issue, or imputes the chastity of the victim. The crime also requires that the intent behind the threatening is either to receive money or some pecuniary gain.

If you or a loved one has been arrested for allegedly committing the crime of extortion, it is important to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.

The Crime of Extortion, Generally

With a crime like extortion, it is defined by the subjective intent of not only the criminal defendant but also the victim. For example, if a criminal wants to extort the victim by threatening to reveal an affair that the victim is having, the effect of the threat may depend on the extorter and the victim’s subjective view of the threat. The extorter may believe that the threat is one that the victim will do anything to keep his or her spouse from knowing about. However, if the victim has already told his or her spouse about the affair, and this is a private but agreed-upon arrangement, the effect that the threat has is limited, if not completely absent.

The Subjective View as a Factor in Extortion

Other threats may be ineffective because they are related to publically known information or the type of information that would not affect the person’s reputation, such as if the extorter is threatening to reveal to the public that the person likes the color blue. However, something that may be innocuous may actually have some harmful impacts depending on how the revelation of the information may adversely affect the victim. For example, the fact that a person voted a certain way may not be a major issue, unless he or she voted in a disloyal fashion or in violation of a conflict of interest.

Division of Florida Courts on Meaning of “Malicious”: Actual Malice vs. Legal Malice

Currently, Florida courts are divided as to the definition of ‘malicious’ as it relates to extortion. There are two arguments that have yet to be settled on for extortion cases and depend on the view of the district court judge. The difference relates to whether malicious means actual malice or legal malice. If malicious refers to actual malice, there is an additional requirement that the prosecution put forward evidence showing that the crime of extortion was acted on with evil intent.

Legal malice refers only to the fact that the criminal defendant threatened the victim intentionally and there was no additional lawful justification or affirmative defense that the criminal defendant could use to combat the “intent” element. Legal malice more or less espouses the concept that if the person threatens another with extortion, it is legally sufficient to prove it was done “maliciously.” However, if the Court views the requirement to be actual malice, there must be proof showing that the threat was made with evil intent either due from hatred, spite, or ill will.

Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.