Can You Go to Jail for Blackmailing Someone?


Blackmail is a type of theft crime. It involves a person threatening to release information about someone else that could injure them or an individual close to them. The blackmailer carries out the act to obtain something of value from the alleged victim. California doesn’t have a law specifically concerning blackmail. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t go to jail for it. These offenses are charged as extortion, a felony. If you are convicted, you could be sentenced to prison.

Facing criminal charges in Santa Rosa? Schedule a consultation with the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C. to discuss your case by contacting us at (707) 418-5352 today.

What Is Blackmail?

Generally, blackmail occurs when someone threatens to cause harm to another individual.

For example, they might claim that they are going to:

  • Report their involvement in a crime,
  • Release revealing or sensitive information about them, or
  • Reveal the individual’s immigration status.

The blackmailer tells the victim that they can stop the revelation from happening by performing some act. That could be giving the alleged offender money, property, services, or anything else of value.

What California Law Concerns Blackmail?

California’s laws don’t specifically state that a person is prohibited from blackmailing others. Rather, the conduct is forbidden under the state’s extortion laws.

Extortion is a crime very similar to blackmail. It also involves threatening to cause injury to another person or someone that person is close to. However, it differs in that the individual committing it threatens to use force or violence against the alleged victim or destroy their property. In contrast, blackmail usually involves a threat to release damaging information (whether or not that information is true).

The blackmail statutes include extortion by threat or force, by threatening letter, or of signature. The underlying elements of the offenses are similar.

They include a person threatening to:

  • Injure or use force against someone else or to destroy their property, or
  • Accuse another individual or a member of that individual’s family of a crime, or
  • Expose a secret about the other individual or a member of that individual’s family.

With both extortion by threat or force and extortion by threatening letter, the defendant must have intended for their threat to cause fear in the other individual to obtain their property, money, or anything of value. Fearing for the safety of themselves or their loved ones, the other individual consents to the actor’s demands. The two differ in that extortion by threatening letter involves sending the other person a message or other writing containing the threat.

In cases involving extortion of signature, the person committing the crime intends to cause fear in the other individual to obtain that individual’s signature. Because of the fear, the other individual signs whatever document the person presents them with.

How Is Blackmail Penalized?

Blackmail, or extortion, is a felony in California. A conviction can result in imprisonment for 2, 3, or 4 years. It can also lead to a fine of up to $10,000.

What to Do If You’ve Been Charged

If you have been accused of extortion, or any other theft crime, speak with a criminal defense lawyer about your case as soon as possible. By carefully analyzing the facts, they can determine what arguments can be made to weaken the prosecutor’s case.

Get started on your defense in Santa Rosa by calling the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C. at (707) 418-5352 or submitting an online contact form today.

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