“Extortion” as a general concept means to use threats to get what you want. Under New Jersey law, theft by extortion is a theft offense involving violent or nonviolent threats to take property from another. Using extortion to accomplish a theft offense increases the crime to a second degree crime, carrying very high penalties.
If you or a loved one was arrested for theft by extortion in South Jersey, contact the Atlantic City extortion lawyers at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych today. Our attorneys have decades of experience representing defendants accused of theft, extortion, robbery, and other serious crimes. For a free, confidential consultation on your charges, call our law offices today at (609) 625-3006.
Theft by Extortion Offense in New Jersey
Theft by extortion under N.J.S.A. § 2C:20-5 has two major parts: the theft offense and the extortion element. “Theft” in New Jersey is divided into multiple statutes based on how the crime is accomplished. Still, there are general definitions that explain what exactly constitutes theft. For the crime of extortion, the theft is accomplished through acts of extortion, which include many different types of threatening actions.
First, it is important to understand the legal definition of theft. Commonly, theft is understood to be taking something that does not belong to you. More specifically, theft means to deprive another of their property. Theft can include not only taking someone else’s property, but also withholding property you have a duty to turn over. For theft by extortion, the statute says that you must “obtain” the property through extortion.
Extortion includes a wide variety of threatening acts. Threats of physical violence are included, but extortion is different than robbery. Robbery is defined to include more immediate threats of harm or the use of actual physical force. Extortion, on the other hand, includes threats of future harm as well.
Overall, New Jersey’s extortion statute includes any of the following threats:
- Threats to cause bodily harm, restrain someone, confine someone, or commit any other crime against them;
- Threats to accuse someone of an offense or get charges filed against them;
- Threats to expose secrets/facts or harm their reputation;
- Threats to take (or refuse to take) action as a public official;
- Threats to start (or continue) a strike, boycott, etc.;
- Threats to testify or refuse to testify in another person’s legal action; or
- Threats to inflict any other harm on another person.
These threats go far beyond threats of violence, and cover situations that could affect celebrities, public officials, business owners, or everyday people.
Penalties for Extortion in NJ
Theft crimes typically vary in severity based on the value of what was stolen, characteristics of stolen items, or how the crime was accomplished. For instance, theft of something worth over $500 (but less than $75,000) constitutes a third degree crime. Extortion automatically upgrades a theft crime to a second degree crime.
In New Jersey, criminal offenses are divided into “disorderly persons offenses” and “indictable crimes.” Disorderly persons offenses are punished with up to 6 months in jail and are similar to misdemeanor offenses in other states. Crimes range in severity and are similar to felonies. Crimes are graded from fourth degree crimes to first degree crimes, with first degree being the most serious.
This means that theft by extortion, as a second degree offense, is a very serious criminal offense. Second degree crimes carry a potential penalty of 5-10 years in prison and fines up to $150,000. If your offense results in theft of more than $150,000, the fine can cover the entire proceeds of your offense, instead.
Defenses to Extortion in NJ
The New Jersey extortion statute includes one “affirmative defense” available to those accused of extortion. An affirmative defense is one where you do not argue the facts the government presents against you, but instead argue that what you did was not a crime because of some extenuating circumstances. With extortion, you can claim that the “extortion” was actually an honest claim for compensation or restitution.
This defense only applies to extortion charges where the alleged threat involved accusing someone of an offense, exposing a secret/fact, taking/withholding official action, or testifying/refusing to testify in court. This means that if you were subject to financial harm because someone acted against you, and you report them, testify against them in court, do your job as a public official, or report their offense to the public, they cannot later accuse you of extortion. Even if the threat of reporting their crime pressures them into repaying you for damages or something similar, they cannot turn around and claim you extorted them.
Atlantic City Extortion Lawyer Offering Free Consultations
If you or a loved one was accused of stealing money or property by threatening the owner, contact an attorney today. The Atlantic City extortion and theft lawyers at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych represent the accused in serious extortion cases. Our attorneys have decades of experience in criminal law and work to protect our clients from unjustified charges, harsh penalties, and unnecessary jail time. For a free consultation on your charges, contact our law offices today at (609) 625-3006.