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Florida’s Extortion Laws: A Primer

Among the more common white collar crimes in Florida is the crime of extortion, which is also known as blackmail. Though it may seem straightforward, there is some nuance to the Florida crime of extortion. Following is a brief synopsis of what you need to know about the crime of extortion in Florida.

History

The term “blackmail” hearkens back to the practice of what we now know of as a protection racket between the English and Scottish residents and the local Border Reivers (raiders) established in the 13th century. Specifically, the raiders demanded tribute (“male”) in the form of goods and labor (reditus nigri) as opposed to “white rent,” which was silver coinage. The practice was also common in the Scottish Highlands, where it was called blathaich mal in Scottish Gaelic, literally meaning “protection rent.”

Blackmail enters American jurisprudence via England’s Black Act of 1723, which made a variety of activities illegal in response to groups of poachers who painted their faces black (“the Blacks”) and raided properties in Hampshire and Windsor Forest.

Basics

The two main elements of extortion in Florida are

  • a threat of harm, and
  • the intent to make the victim act against their will.

Threat

For the element of threat, it may be conveyed either orally or in printed or written form. It may be a threat of physical harm, harm to the victim’s property, or a psychological harm to the victim. Several situations are outlined in the statute itself, including

  • accusations of a crime,
  • injury to reputation,
  • disgrace,
  • revealing a secret,
  • revealing a physical deformity, and
  • alleging sexual promiscuity.

Florida law holds that the action threatened may be an act that is either legal or illegal, but the threat of a legal act must be shown to have been carried out with malicious intent.

Intent

Florida law on extortion requires a certain level of intent for conviction. Specifically, the accused must be shown to have intended to compel the victim or some other person to do or not do an act against the victim’s will. However, the threat need not be carried out to qualify as extortion. In fact, the defendant need not even be able to carry out the act with which they threatened the victim for it to satisfy the element of intent.

The defendant must also have intended to gain from the threat, either financially or any other pecuniary advantage.

Public Officer

In Florida, the laws on extortion are slightly different for public officers, as they must have actually taken money or actually received some financial advantage from the threat. Public officers for the purposes of extortion include law enforcement officers, licensed attorneys, court clerks, and state officials.

Penalty

A conviction of extortion in Florida is a second degree felony, which can be punished by a prison sentence of up to 15 years, probation for up to 15 years, and a fine of up to $10,000.

Defenses

Typically extortion charges in Florida are defended in one of two ways. A defendant may claim that the threat was made to defend him- or herself, another individual, or property. Also used is the claim that the threat was never meant to be heard by the victim, or the threat was not seriously made, as in the case of a joke.

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