Virginia Law on Extortion: Va. Code § 18.2-59

What is extortion or blackmail in Virginia?

“Any person who (i) threatens injury to the character, person, or property of another person, (ii) accuses him of any offense, (iii) threatens to report hi as being illegally present in the United States, or (iv) knowingly destroys, conceals, removes, confiscates, withholds or threatens to withhold, or possesses any actual or purported passport or other immigration document, , or any other actual or purported government identification document, of another person, and thereby extorts money, property, or pecuniary benefit or any note, bond, or other evidence of debt from him or any other person, is guilty of a Class 5 felony.

Va. Code § 18.2-59

What does this mean for you?

Extortion or blackmail occurs when a person threatens another into giving him something of value. Typically, the blackmail is used to describe a situation when the threatened injury is to the person’s reputation or character and the term extortion is used when the threatened injury is to the person’s person or property.  In the Virginia Code blackmail and extortion are not explicitly distinguished.

What is considered a threat?

The threat need not be explicitly communicated.  A threat of injury can be veiled or implied.  Courts will look at all of the surrounding circumstances in determining whether a threat was knowingly made.

What is considered a threatened injury?

The injury threatened may be physical harm, but can also include threats to accuse someone of a crime or otherwise harm a person’s character—often by threatening to make public humiliating information.  The Commonwealth does not have to prove that the threatened information is false.   

Threatening injury to another person’s property can also be the basis of an extortion charge.

Virginia’s extortion statute also specifically includes threats to report someone to as being in the U.S. illegally or to destroy, hide or withhold a passport, immigration document, or other government identification. It is not a defense to extortion or blackmail to say that you have a lawful right to the thing of value demanded—for instance, a debt owed to you.  However, it does not constitute an injury when a person threatens the release of certain identifying information about another, such as a name and bank account number, in order to obtain a pecuniary benefit to which that person reasonably believes he is lawfully entitled.

What is considered something of value?

Extorting something of value is the basis of an extortion charge.  Something of pecuniary value has a benefit that can be measured in monetary terms.  If a person threatens injury, but does not extort money or something else of pecuniary value, it is not extortion.  However, even if the extorter never receives the money or thing of value, he or she can still be prosecuted for attempted extortion.

How is extortion or blackmail punished?

Extortion under Va Code § 18.2-59 is a Class 5 felony, which carries a punishment of imprisonment of 1-10 years and/or a fine of up to $2,500.00.

Should I get an attorney?

An experienced attorney can analyze the circumstances of an extortion case and often come up with potential defenses.  In addition, an attorney can use mitigating factors to negotiate with the prosecutor. In short, you absolutely should have an experienced criminal defense attorney look at the specific facts of your case. Contact us now.