A person who publishes or threatens to publish intimate photos or videos of another with the intention of forcing the victim into prescribed conduct the victim would not have otherwise engaged in may be charged with extortion.
b. Text of the Statute
Cal. Penal Code §§ 518-19:
§ 518. "Extortion is the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, or the obtaining of an official act of a public officer, induced by a wrongful use of force or fear, or under color of official right."
§ 519. Fear, such as will constitute extortion, may be induced by a threat, either:
1. To do an unlawful injury to the person or property of the individual threatened or of a third person; or,
2. To accuse the individual threatened, or any relative of his, or member of his family, of any crime; or,
3. To expose, or to impute to him or them any deformity, disgrace or crime; or,
4. To expose any secret affecting him or them.”
- People v. Power, 70 Cal. Rptr. 3d 799 (Cal. Ct. App. 2008).
Procedural Posture: Defendant was found guilty of extortion and appealed.
Law: Cal. Penal Code §518
Facts: Victim had sex against her will with defendant after receiving anonymous letters threatening the safety of her family. Victim followed the letters' demands and allowed the filming of her sexual encounters with defendant. Defendant convinced victim that the letters were sent by a coworker. The defendant told victim that after viewing each video, coworker would return the video to defendant. Defendant would then show victim a part of the video and he would destroy it in her presence. At one point, victim was forced to pass up a promotion because she refused to pay $5,000 or have sex in a public place with defendant. Victim finally contacted the police and the police immediately suspected that the defendant was behind the entire set up.
Outcome: Affirmed conviction. The court concluded enough evidence existed to prove that the victim was induced to comply with defendant’s requests out of fear for the safety of her husband and children.
Note: Victim referred to as “Jane Doe.”
- People v. Peniston, 51 Cal. Rptr. 744 (Cal. Ct. App. Dist 1966).
Procedural Posture: Defendant was convicted by the trial court for extortion and appealed.
Law: Cal. Penal Code §§ 518 and 519.
Facts: After the defendant and victim met, she sent him partially nude photographs of herself and eventually began a relationship with him, which ended after he left for the Far East. While defendant was out of the country, victim married another man. When defendant returned to the U.S., he demanded victim give him $400 or he would show the partially nude photos she had sent him to her husband and parents. Victim gave defendant the money and asked him to return the photographs to her. He subsequently demanded $10,000 for the photos, but eventually settled for $1,000. The victim informed police about this arrangement, and the police arrested defendant when he and the victim met up to conduct the exchange.
Outcome: Affirmed. Victim “feared that disclosure of the pictures to [her family] might lead to revocation of probation [she had been on probation for prostitution] and the loss of her children.” The court considered this sufficient evidence of a secret within the meaning of § 519. Based on the evidence, it was reasonable for the trier of fact to infer that the victim acted under fear of disclosure of a secret to her family.
d. Practice Pointer
Recent case law indicates that the Cal. Penal Code also gives rise to a civil cause of action for extortion. To bring a cause of action for the tort of extortion, the plaintiff must demonstrate one of the four elements listed in Cal. Penal Code, § 519 in addition to establishing injury and causation. In a case of attempted extortion, the plaintiff must show that “(1) the [defendant] sent or delivered to [the plaintiff] written correspondence; (2) that this writing expressed or implied a threat listed in Section 519; (3) the [defendant] intended to extort money or property from [the plaintiff]; (4) the plaintiff suffered harm; and (5) the harm was caused by the [defendant].”
(ii) “Extortion is not a constitutionally protected form of speech.”