The word “blackmail” may conjure up memories of scenes from television and movies in which the villain gives the hero an ultimatum: Either you do what I say, or I will reveal to the world your worst secret. In reality, as most San Francisco white collar criminal attorneys will tell you, blackmail charges can arise in situations that are far less dramatic.
In California, the crime of blackmail is codified in Penal Code §518: California extortion law. Under that code section, it is illegal to use force or threats to compel someone to give you either money or property. An experienced San Francisco white collar criminal attorney may tell you that the “threat” is often a primary element in a blackmail case.
Threats may include such things as threatening to accuse the targeted person of the commission of a crime or threatening to reveal a secret that would cause embarrassment or disgrace. The other element that must be proved is that the person making the threat did so with the intent to gain something.
For example, you may tell a co-worker to stop stealing or you will inform the boss. That alone is not blackmail. But if you tell him to stop stealing and pay you money or you will tell the boss, that may be blackmail.
As you may see from this small example, the proof of the crime of blackmail often involves very subtle differences in which words were said and how those words were interpreted. If you are charged with blackmail, you should not hesitate to seek counsel from a San Francisco white collar criminal attorney, as a conviction may subject you to up to four years in prison.