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Understanding Colorado’s Extortion

Colorado’s Extortion Law – 18-3207(4) states what has been the law for centuries – when a person has damaging information – true or not true – they cannot threaten to use that information to destroy another’s life or reputation in exchange for money. This is classic blackmail.

The First Amendment would permit them to tell the truth about another’s private life – but the information, true or not true, cannot be used to extort money or other valuable consideration in exchange for NOT disclosing the damaging information. This concept has recently been extended to the threat of contacting authorities because of another’s illegal immigration status.

Here is the Law of Extortion in Colorado: 18-3-207

Criminal extortion: A person who threatens a person, or his or her property or reputation, to induce that person to act against his will to do an act or refrain from doing a lawful act commits a class 4 felony.

Colorado’s law governing extortion broadens the common-law definition of extortion. Under Colorado Law, any person who takes money or property from another by means of illegal compulsion may be guilty of the offense. When used in this sense, extortion is synonymous with blackmail, which is extortion by a private person.

Elements of the Offense of Extortion in Colorado § 18-3-207(1)

A person commits criminal extortion if:

§ 18-3-207. Criminal extortion – aggravated extortion
  1. A person commits criminal extortion if:
    1. The person, without legal authority and with the intent to induce another person against that other person’s will to perform an act or to refrain from performing a lawful act, makes a substantial threat to confine or restrain, cause economic hardship or bodily injury to, or damage the property or reputation of, the threatened person or another person; and
    2. The person threatens to cause the results described in paragraph (a) of this subsection (1) by:
      1. Performing or causing an unlawful act to be performed; or
      2. Invoking action by a third party, including but not limited to, the state or any of its political subdivisions, whose interests are not substantially related to the interests pursued by the person making the threat.
    1.5 A person commits criminal extortion if the person, with the intent to induce another person against that other person’s will to give the person money or another item of value, threatens to report to law enforcement officials the immigration status of the threatened person or another person.
  2. A person commits aggravated criminal extortion if, in addition to the acts described in subsection (1) of this section, the person threatens to cause the results described in paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of this section by means of chemical, biological, or harmful radioactive agents, weapons, or poison.
  3. For the purposes of this section, “substantial threat” means a threat that is reasonably likely to induce a belief that the threat will be carried out and is one that threatens that significant confinement, restraint, injury, or damage will occur.
  4. Criminal extortion, as described in subsections (1) and (1.5) of this section, is a class 4 felony. Aggravated criminal extortion, as described in subsection (2) of this section, is a class 3 felony.

Virtually all extortion statutes require that a threat must be made to the person or property of the victim. Threats to harm the victim’s friends or relatives may also be included. It is not necessary for a threat to involve physical injury. It may be sufficient to threaten to accuse another person of a crime or to expose a secret that would result in public embarrassment or ridicule. The threat does not have to relate to an unlawful act. Extortion may be carried out by a threat to tell the victim’s spouse that the victim is having an illicit sexual affair with another.

Other types of threats sufficient to constitute extortion include those to harm the victim’s business and those to either testify against the victim.

Many statutes also provide that any threat to harm another person in his or her career or reputation is extortion.

Extortion by Public Officers

The essence of extortion by a public officer is the oppressive use of official position to obtain a fee. The officer falsely claims authority to take that to which he or she is not lawfully entitled. This is known as acting under color of office. For example, a highway department officer who collects money from a tax delinquent automobile owner in excess of the authorized amount on the pretense of collecting a fine is extorting money under color of office. The victim, although consenting to payment, is not doing so voluntarily but is yielding to official authority.

There are four basic ways in which a public officer commits extortion.

The officer might demand a fee not allowed by law and accept it under the guise of performing an official duty. He or she might take a fee greater than that allowed by law. In this case the victim must at least believe that he or she is under an obligation to pay some amount. A third method is for the officer to receive a fee before it is due. The crime is committed regardless of whether the sum taken is likely to become due in the future. It is not criminal, however, for an officer to collect a fee before it is due if the person paying so requests. Finally, extortion may be committed by the officer’s taking a fee for services that are not performed. The service refrained from must be one within the official capacity of the officer in order to constitute extortion.

Other Crimes Distinguished as a Crime of Theft, Extortion is Closely Related to Robbery

Robbery differs from extortion in that the property is taken from the person – against the will and without the consent of the victim, unlike extortion, where the victim consents, although unwillingly, to surrender money or property. Another distinguishing factor is that the nature of the threat for robbery is limited to immediate physical harm to the victim or his or her home. Extortion, on the other hand, encompasses a greater variety of threats.

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