Defendant complained to police on multiple occasions that a dental student was making harassing phone calls to his address. Defendant worked with police and positively identified the dental students. The following day, defendant called the dental student stating that he would not press charges if the dental student paid him money.
Defendant convicted at trial by jury of extortion and was sentenced to six years. Defendant then appealed.
“Any person who threatens or communicates a threat or threats to another with the intention thereby wrongfully to obtain anything of value or any acquittance, advantage, or immunity is guilty of extortion and such person shall be punished as a class H felony.”
Whether offering money not to press charges constitutes extortion and do not have the elements of a threat and wrongful intent within the meaning of the relevant statute.
Whether there can be wrongful intent to extort where the maker of the threat believes he is entitled to the property which he wants to extort for.
Yes and Yes. Most common law jurisdictions have held that extorting with the threat to press charges constitutes extortion. Even if defendant believed he was entitled to the money he sought because the means by which he seeks to obtain his claimed property is illegitimate – through the threat of non-prosecution. Most common law jurisdictions agree that the claim of right defense to the property is not legitimate in these circumstances and in those that do hold its validity, the defendant is usually already entitled to some form of compensation, where the victim of extortion was eventually found guilty already. Here, defendant’s compensation was dependent on his pursuit of a civil action, which is not guaranteed by a guilty conviction of harassment over the phone.