You may have heard mention of “blackmail” in the news or media. But what actually is it? In Texas, blackmail, commonly known as extortion, is a type of theft. However, blackmail is not the same thing as robbery, which requires an immediate fear of physical harm for the victim.
But while blackmail and extortion are commonly used interchangeably, they aren’t exactly the same. There are some differences between the two. Here’s what to know about blackmail in Texas.
Blackmail vs. Extortion
Under Texas law, blackmail and extortion are differentiated between one another by the conduct involved. Extortion uses coercion (usually a threat of violence, a threat of property destruction, or a threat to perform an improper governmental action) in order to obtain money, property, or services from another person. In other words, extortion basically occurs when someone threatens one of the aforementioned types of harm if the victim fails to comply with a request.
While extortion used to be a crime that could only be committed by a public official, a private citizen can now commit it.
Blackmail is like extortion in that there is a threat, but the difference is the type of threat. Blackmail doesn’t involve threats of violence to someone or their property. But rather, blackmail involves the threat to disclose information that could negatively impact the victim’s reputation, career, or personal relationships. Blackmail requires that the victim pay (whether with money, property, or services) in order to prevent the disclosure of such information.
Penalties for blackmail or extortion are dependent upon the severity of the threats, intent, property, and fear involved. Threats can be verbal, in writing, or through other methods of communication, such as gestures. Both blackmail and extortion require the intent to force the other person to provide something of value. The defendant must also intend to cause fear in the victim, though the fear need not only be of physical harm. Additionally, it’s not necessary that the victim felt fearful – just that the defendant intended them to. Property also need not to be successfully taken to qualify – just that the intent was there to take it.
Penalties for blackmail or extortion include:
- A fine (to the state)
- Restitution (to the victim)
Blackmail or extortion is considered a Class C misdemeanor in Texas when the property that is gained is less than $100. Generally, the fine will be $500. However, the higher the value of the property gained, the higher the charge. Those who take property valued between $2,500 and $30,000 can get six months to two years in state jail as well as a fine of up to $10,000. Additionally, if the threats were given to an elderly or young person or a government official, the penalties may be higher.
Statute of Limitations
One of the most important things to remember is that there is a time limit that someone has to bring a claim against another person or entity for the crime of blackmail or extortion. This period is called the statute of limitations and lasts 5 years in Texas. In other words, if someone fails to meet the five-year deadline for pressing charges, they can be prohibited from bringing a claim later on. However, there are incidents in which the statute of limitations may be extended, such as if the defendant is out of state or already in prison on different charges.
The Attorneys at Ceja Law Firm Help Those in Houston Who Have Been Charged with Blackmail or Extortion
Blackmail and extortion can be very serious crimes with consequences that can impact many aspects of your life for a long time. This is why it’s important to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced white collar crime attorney if you should be charged with either of these crimes.
Since these actions are considered crimes, the court must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is, in fact, guilty. Therefore the state has the burden of proof and must prove each element of the charge. Defenses to blackmail or extortion include insufficient evidence, false accusations, or a lack of fear or force.
At Ceja Law Firm PLLC, we understand the serious nature of such a criminal charge. That’s why we will work to help you obtain the best possible outcome. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, contact us today!