Blackmail is a criminal offense in which a party, who has obtained information about a victim, demands or receives “money or any other valuable thing” as a consequence for not informing third parties about the information in question. Blackmail is considered a federal crime and can be punishable by either fines or imprisonment depending upon the specifics of the case. The victim does not need to be a federal office-holder in order for blackmail to be prosecuted at the federal level.
Federal blackmail laws are intended to protect individuals, particularly those who wield public power, from undue influence by third parties. Unfortunately, federal blackmail cases have been notoriously difficult to prosecute because victimized parties typically avoid coming forward in order to press federal charges. Federal charges in blackmail cases often require that the information being protected come to light, which can be scandalous for the aggrieved party even when they choose to follow the law.
Blackmail Crimes & Charges
Federal blackmail laws do not necessarily require that the aggrieved party be a member of a state or federal government. There are actually several different scenarios under which blackmail charges can be pursued at the federal level regardless of the identities of the aggrieved party or the alleged perpetrator:
- As discussed, federal blackmail charges can be brought up in cases where the alleged perpetrator seeks to wield undue influence over political outcomes or operations as a result of possessing or withholding information on a politician.
- Federal blackmail charges can also be brought up in cases where an individual has used any interstate means of communication, including the internet, telephone system, or mail, in order to communicate the threat of blackmail or receive consideration for withholding the information in question.
- Although blackmail is a crime that does require the victim to participate by giving the perpetrator a consideration of value and concealing that information from others, it is generally understood that the blackmailed party did so under duress. Under this well-known legal doctrine, he or she does not generally face legal repercussions, although such may be possible if public funds were misused to pay a blackmailer, for example.
Under federal statues, blackmail is a felony crime that can be punishable by up to a year in prison and substantial fines. Although blackmail carries a relatively low prison sentence, it is important to understand that commission of blackmail can also entail a number of other charges, including federal extortion charges, which carry a sentence of up to twenty years in prison.
Blackmail Sentencing Guidelines
In addition to fines and imprisonment, federal blackmail charges can be compounded by additional charges including extortion, racketeering, and others. Judges will generally look at whether or not the case in question is a result of organized criminal activity. Even in the case of private individuals, those found guilty of blackmail may be required to pay restitution to the victim and may face probation in addition to a prison term and fines.
Blackmail Statute of Limitations
18 USC 3282 in the United States Code indicates that no one can be prosecuted, tried or punished for any noncapital offense after five years. An indictment must be found or information instituted before that time. However, blackmail may be prosecuted beyond this period if its commission also included capital offenses or other federal crimes. These can include, but are not limited to, murder, kidnapping, and espionage.
In addition to political figures, celebrities are very frequently the victim of blackmail plots. These plots can be carried out by individuals with tenuous connections to them, such as studio interns, professional service providers, and others. Victims often choose to pay off a blackmailer rather than suffer the negative attention that such a situation can cause.
- In 2010, a man pled guilty in a plot to blackmail Tonight Show host David Letterman in a scheme to receive $2 million dollars from the comedian in exchange for keeping quiet about alleged sexual affairs that Letterman had engaged in around the set. (CNN)
- One of the most famous blackmail and extortion cases of all time took place in the 1980s in Japan and remains unsolved to this day. Businessman Katushisa Ezaki, president of Japan’s world famous Ezaki Gilco Corporation, was abducted as part of what many believe to be one of the largest extortion rings in world history. (Japan Times)
Blackmail Quick Links & References
- Extortion, Blackmail & Related Statutes at Cornell Law
- Legaltree Article Describing the Crime in Canadian Jurisdictions
- Understanding the Difference Between Extortion and Blackmail
- The History of Blackmail and Its Federal Prosecution
- Understanding Blackmail & Extortion Federally and in the States
Blackmail Laws by State
Many states do not have separate statutes for blackmail. Those that do usually classify it as extortion, which is very similar to blackmail. The majority of states, however, classify blackmail as theft and punishments for theft vary depending on the value of the services or goods that were stolen. With blackmail, the amount someone was blackmailed for generally denotes the value that determines the level of offense.
Under 2013 Code of Alabama, Title 13A – CRIMINAL CODE. Chapter 8 – OFFENSES INVOLVING THEFT. Section 13A-8-13 – Extortion – Definition. Extortion can be:
- 1st degree – Class B felony – Two to 20 years imprisonment
- 2nd degree – Class C felony – One year and one day to 10 years imprisonment
Under Alaska Statutes. Title 11. Criminal Law. Chapter 41. Offenses Against the Person. Section 520. Extortion, this is a class B felony. The state uses an indeterminate sentencing system with a presumptive range. For Class B felony:
- Up to 10 years imprisonment
- Fines up to $100,000
Under A.R.S 13-1804, blackmail:
- Without physical harm – Class 2 felony. One and a half to three years imprisonment
- All other forms of blackmail – Class 4 felony. Five years imprisonment
Under 2014 Arkansas Code. Title 5 – Criminal Offenses. Subtitle 2 – Offenses Against The Person. Chapter 18 – Human Trafficking Act of 2013. Section 5-18-102 – Definitions, extortion can be a misdemeanor depending on the value. Class A felony is the greatest offense.
Under California Penal Code Sections 518-527:
- Attempted extortion. Fine of up to $10,000 with up to one year in county jail; fine and imprisonment; or imprisonment in state prison
- Felony. Two to four years in state prison
Under Colorado Criminal Law – Understanding Colorado’s Extortion – Blackmail Law – 18-3-207 CRS. Section 18-3-207. Criminal extortion – aggravated extortion:
- Class 4 felony for criminal extortion. Two to six years imprisonment and fine of $2,000 to $500,000
- Class 3 felony for aggravated criminal extortion. Four to 12 years imprisonment and fine of $3,000 to $750,000
Under Sec. 53a-119. Larceny defined, blackmail is classified as 1st degree larceny, which is a class B felony. One to 20 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $15,000.
Under 2014 Delaware Code. Title 11 – Crimes and Criminal Procedure. CHAPTER 5. SPECIFIC OFFENSES. Subchapter III Offenses Involving Property. Section 846. Extortion is a:
- Class E felony. Up to five years imprisonment
- Class D felony where the victim is older than 62. Up to eight years imprisonment
Under Florida Statutes Section 836.05, blackmail is a 2nd degree felony. Up to 15 years imprisonment, up to 15 years probation, up to $10,000 fine.
Under 2010 Georgia Code. TITLE 16 – CRIMES AND OFFENSES. CHAPTER 8 – OFFENSES INVOLVING THEFT. ARTICLE 1 – THEFT. Section 16-8-16 – Theft by extortion, this leads to one to 10 years imprisonment.
- 2009 Hawaii Code. Volume 14. TITLE 37 – HAWAII PENAL CODE. CHAPTER 707 – OFFENSES AGAINST THE PERSON. Section707-764 – Extortion.
- 2009 Hawaii Code. Volume 14. TITLE 37 – HAWAII PENAL CODE. CHAPTER 707 – OFFENSES AGAINST THE PERSON. Section707-765 – Extortion in the first degree.
Blackmail is a class B felony. Up to 10 years imprisonment and fine of up to $25,000.
- Idaho Statutes. TITLE 18. CRIMES AND PUNISHMENTS. CHAPTER 24. THEFT.
- 2016 Idaho Statutes. Title 18 – CRIMES AND PUNISHMENTS. Chapter 48 – LIBEL. Section 18-4809 – THREATS TO PUBLISH LIBEL — EXTORTION.
Blackmail is a misdemeanor.
Under Illinois Statutes Section 5/12-6 (Intimidation) blackmail is classed as intimidation. It mandates:
- Intimidation as a class 3 felony. Two to five years imprisonment and fine of up to $25,000
- Aggravated intimidation as a class 2 felony. Three to seven years imprisonment and fine of up to $25,000.
- Aggravated intimidation through gang activities as a class 1 felony. Four to 15 years imprisonment, periodic imprisonment of three to four years or probation or four years conditional discharge. Fine of up to $25,000 and/or restitution.
Under Indiana Code Title 35. Criminal Law and Procedure Section 35-45-2-1, the level of felony depends on the type of threat and who was involved. It can be a:
- Level 6 felony. Six months to two and a half years imprisonment and one year advisory sentence.
- Level 5 felony. One to six years’ imprisonment and three year advisory sentence.
Under 2018 Code of Iowa. 711.4 Extortion, extortion is a class D felony. Up to five years’ imprisonment that can be deferred or suspended if it was not a forcible felony. Fine of $750 to $7,500.
Under 2012 Statute. Article 58. – CRIMES INVOLVING PROPERTY. 21-5801. Theft:
- Value of $100,000 or more – Level 5 nonperson felony
- Value of $25,000 to less than $100,000 – Level 7 nonperson felony
- Value of $1,000 to less than $25,000 – Level 9 nonperson felony
- Value below $1,000 – Class A nonperson misdemeanor
Kansas uses a grid system for sentencing, meaning the value, the victim, the circumstances, and the prior history of the offender are taken into consideration for sentencing.
Under 2011 Kentucky Revised Statutes. CHAPTER 514 THEFT AND RELATED OFFENSES. 514.080 Theft by extortion:
- Class A misdemeanor for value below $500. Up to 12 months in jail. Fine of up to $500.
- Class D felony for value of $500 to less than $10,000. One to five years imprisonment. Fine of between $1,000 and $10,000.
- Class C felony for value of $10,000 or more. Five to ten years imprisonment. Fine of between $1,000 and $10,000.
Under 2009 Louisiana Laws TITLE 14 Criminal law :: RS 14:66 Extortion. Imprisonment with hard labor for one year to 15 years.
Under Title 17-A: MAINE CRIMINAL CODE. Part 2: SUBSTANTIVE OFFENSES. Chapter 15: THEFT. Section356. Section355. Theft by extortion. Blackmail is a class C crime. Up to five years imprisonment and restitution.
Under 2010 Maryland Code. CRIMINAL LAW. TITLE 3 – OTHER CRIMES AGAINST THE PERSON. Subtitle 7 – Extortion and Other Threats. Section 3-701 – Extortion. Generally:
- Value is $500 or more – Felony. Up to 10 years imprisonment and/or fine up to $5,000.
- Value below $500 – Misdemeanor. Up to 18 months imprisonment and/or fine of up to $500.
Under 2010 Maryland Code. CRIMINAL LAW. TITLE 3 – OTHER CRIMES AGAINST THE PERSON. Subtitle 7 – Extortion and Other Threats. Section 3-706 – Extortion by written threat. Section 3-706. Felony. Up to 10 years imprisonment and/or fine up to $10,000.
Under 2010 Maryland Code. CRIMINAL LAW. TITLE 3 – OTHER CRIMES AGAINST THE PERSON. Subtitle 7 – Extortion and Other Threats. Section 3-705 – Extortion by verbal threat. Felony. Up to 10 years imprisonment and/or fine of up to $10,000.
Under General Laws Part IV Title I Chapter 265. Section 25 Attempted extortion; punishment:
- Up to 15 years in state prison or ip to two and a half years in a house of correction and/or up to $5,000 fine.
Under THE MICHIGAN PENAL CODE (EXCERPT). Act 328 of 1931. 750.213 Malicious threats to extort money, blackmail is a felony. Up to 20 years imprisonment or up to $10,000 fine.
Under 2017 Minnesota Statutes. 609.27 COERCION. Subd. 2.Sentence:
- For threats; loss is $300 or less – Up to 90 days imprisonment and/or fine of up to $1,000
- For threats; loss is more than $300 but less than $2,500 – Up to five years imprisonment and/or fine of up to $10,000
- For threats; loss is $2,500 or more – Up to 10 years imprisonment and/or fine of up to $20,000.
Under 2010 Mississippi Code. TITLE 97 – CRIMES. Chapter 3 – Crimes Against the Person. 97-3-82 – Extortion; definitions; offense and penalties.
- Value up to $500 – Misdemeanor. Up to six months in county jail
- Value above $500 – Felony. Up to 15 years in the Department of Corrections
- Public officials engaging in blackmail. Felony. Two to 20 years in the Department of Corrections
Under 2016 Missouri Revised Statutes. TITLE XXXVIII CRIMES AND PUNISHMENT; PEACE OFFICERS AND PUBLIC DEFENDERS (556-600). Chapter 566 Sexual Offenses. Section 566.200 Definitions, blackmail is a felony charge. Up to 15 years imprisonment and/or fines of up to $10,000, restitution, and probation.
Under Montana Code Annotated 2017. TITLE 45. CRIMES. CHAPTER 5. OFFENSES AGAINST THE PERSON. Part 2. Assault and Related Offenses. Intimidation. 45-5-203. Intimidation, those convicted of blackmail may be sent to state prison for up to 10 years and/or be fined up to $50,000.
- Nebraska Revised Statutes Chapter 28. Crimes and Punishments Section 28-513. Theft by extortion
- Nebraska Revised Statutes Chapter 28. Crimes and Punishments Section 28-510. Consolidation of theft offenses.
- Nebraska Statutes 28-358. Exploitation, defined.
- Class II misdemeanor for value of less than $200. Up to six months imprisonment in county jail and/or fine of up to $1,000. Class I misdemeanor for second conviction and class IV felony for subsequent conviction.
- Class I misdemeanor for value $200 to $500. Up to one years imprisonment in county jail and/or fine of up to $1,000. Class IV felony for subsequent offenses.
- Class IV felony theft for value $500 to $1,500. Up to five years imprisonment in Department of Correctional Services institution if more than one year (county jail for less than one year) and/or fine of up to $10,000.
- Class III felony theft for value above $1,500. One to 20 years imprisonment in Department of Correctional Services institution and/or fine of up to $25,000.
- Civil penalties are also charged.
Under 2009 Nevada Code. TITLE 15 – CRIMES AND PUNISHMENTS. Chapter 205 – Crimes Against Property:
- 205.320 – Threats. Class B felony. One to 10 years in state prison and/or fine of up to $10,000 and restitution.
- 322 – Extortionate collection of debt. Category B felony. One to six years in state prison and/or fine of up to $10,000 and restitution.
Under 2010 New Hampshire Statutes. TITLE LXII CRIMINAL CODE. CHAPTER 637 THEFT. Section 637:5 Theft by Extortion:
- Value below $1,000. Class A misdemeanor. Fine of up to $2,000 and up to one year in prison.
- Value between $1,000 and $1,500. Class B felony. Up to seven years imprisonment and fine of up to $4,000.
- Value above $1,500. Class A felony. Up to 15 years imprisonment and fine of up to $4,000.
- Civil penalties
Under 2014 New Jersey Revised Statutes. Title 2C – THE NEW JERSEY CODE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE. Section 2C:20-5 – Theft by extortion, blackmail is a crime of the second degree. Five to 10 years imprisonment and fine of up to $100,000. New Jersey has the No Early Release Act, meaning 85% of the sentence must be served without parole.
Under New Mexico Statutes 30-16-9. Extortion, blackmail is a third degree felony – Up to three years in prison and fine of up to $5,000.
- New York Penal Law Section 135.60 (coercion in the second degree)
- New York Penal Law Section 135.65 (coercion in the first degree)
- New York Penal Law Section 135.75 (coercion defense)
Charges may be:
- 1st degree coercion – Class D felony. Three to seven years imprisonment and/or fine of up to $5,000 or twice the amount of gain.
- 2nd degree coercion – Class A misdemeanor. Up to one year in prison and/or fine of up to $1,000.
- 2005 North Carolina Code – General Statutes Section 14-118.4. Extortion
- 2005 North Carolina Code – General Statutes Section 14-118. Blackmailing
Blackmailing is a class 1 misdemeanor. One to 120 days of community, intermediate, or active punishment and a fine.
Under North Dakota Century Code Title 12.1. Chapter 12.1-23. Theft and Related Offenses. 12.1-23-01 Consolidation of theft offenses, blackmail is considered class B Felony Theft. Up to 10 years imprisonment and/or up to $10,000 fine.
Under Ohio Revised Code » Title  XXIX CRIMES – PROCEDURE » Chapter 2905: KIDNAPPING AND EXTORTION. 2905.11 Extortion, blackmail is a felony of the third degree. Nine months to five years imprisonment and/or up to $10,000 fine.
- 2014 Oklahoma Statutes. Title 21. Crimes and Punishments. Section 21-1482. Threats constituting extortion.
- 2014 Oklahoma Statutes. Title 21. Crimes and Punishments. Section 21-1483. Extortion or attempted extortion.
- Felony. Up to five years in state prison
- Attempted extortion. Up to two years in state prison
Under 2014 Oklahoma Statutes. Title 21. Crimes and Punishments. Section21-1488. Blackmail is a felony crime. Up to five years imprisonment in state prison and/or fine of up to $10,000.
Under 2015 ORS 164.075. Theft by extortion is a class B felony. Up to 10 years imprisonment and/or fine of up to $250,000.
Under 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. section 3923 et. seq. (Theft by Extortion):
- Up to one year imprisonment
- Up to $2,500 fine or twice the financial gain
In some cases, the crime will be charged as a 3rd degree felony:
- Up to seven years imprisonment
- Fine of up to $15,000 or twice the financial gain
Under 2014 Rhode Island General Laws. Title 11 – Criminal Offenses. Chapter 11-42 – Threats and Extortion. Section 11-42-2 – Extortion and blackmail – up to 15 years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $25,000.
Under 2014 Rhode Island General Laws. Title 11 – Criminal Offenses. Chapter 11-42 – Threats and Extortion. Section 11-42-1.1 – Extortion by public official – up to 15 years imprisonment and/or fine of up to $25,000. Just enrichment will be forfeited.
Under South Carolina law Section 16-17-640, blackmail is a felony leading to up to 10 years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $5,000. Restitution may also be ordered.
Under 2013 South Dakota Codified Laws. Title 22 – CRIMES. Chapter 30A – Theft. Section 22-30A-4 Theft by threat, those convicted face heavy fines, a prison sentence, probation or parole, and restitution.
Under 2014 Tennessee Code. Title 39 – Criminal Offenses. Chapter 14 – Offenses Against Property. Part 1 – Theft. Section 39-14-112 – Extortion is a class D felony leading to two to 12 years imprisonment and up to $5,000 fine.
Under Texas Penal Code, Title 7, Chapter 31, a range of penalties may be imposed for extortion. Severity is down to value of the goods, services, or cash gained. The minimum and maximum are:
- Up to $50 – Class C misdemeanor. Fine of up to $500
- Above $200,000 – 1st degree felony. Five to 99 years imprisonment and/or fine up to $10,000.
Under Utah Code Section 76-6-404 Theft by extortion:
- Value below $500. Class B misdemeanor – Up to six months in jail and/or fine of up to $1,000
- Value is $500 to $1,499. Class A misdemeanor – Up to one year in jail and/or fine of up to $2,500.
- Value is $1,500 to $4,999. 3rd degree felony. Up to five years imprisonment and/or fine of up to $5,000.
- Value above $5,000. 2nd degree felony. Up to 15 years imprisonment and/or fine of up to $10,000.
- Civil liabilities are also charged at treble damages.
Under 2012 Vermont Statutes. Title 13 Crimes and Criminal Procedure. Chapter 39 EXTORTION AND THREATS. Section 1701 Definition and penalty, anyone convicted of blackmail may be imprisoned for up to three years and/or fined up to $500.
Under the Code of Virginia, Table of Contents » Title 18.2. Crimes and Offenses Generally » Chapter 4. Crimes Against the Person » Section 18.2-59. Extortion of money, property or pecuniary benefit, blackmail is:
- A felony crime with successful extortion. Up to five years in the penitentiary.
- A misdemeanor if extortion was not successful. Between two and 12 months in jail and/or fine of up to $500.
- RCWs – Title 9A – Chapter 9A.56 – Section 9A.56.110. Extortion – Definition.
- RCWs – Title 9A – Chapter 9A.56 – Section 9A.56.120. Extortion in the First Degree.
Blackmail is a class B felony leading to up to 10 years imprisonment and/or fine of up to $20,000.
Under RCWs – Title 9A – Chapter 9A.56 – Section 9A.56.130. Extortion in the Second Degree, blackmail is a class C felony leading to up to five years imprisonment and/or up to $10,000 in fines.
Under WEST VIRGINIA CODE. Section61-2-13. Extortion or attempted extortion by threats; penalties:
- Blackmail with successful extortion is a felony. One to five years imprisonment
- Blackmail without successful extortion is a misdemeanor. Two to 12 months in jail and fine of $50 to $500.
Under Wisconsin State Legislature 943.30 Threats to injure or accuse of crime, blackmail is a class H felony. Under 943.31 Threats to communicate derogatory information, blackmail is also a class H felony. Up to six years imprisonment and/or fine of up to $10,000.
Under 2011 Wyoming Statutes. TITLE 6 – CRIMES AND OFFENSES. CHAPTER 2 – OFFENSES AGAINST THE PERSON. 6-2-402. Blackmail; aggravated blackmail; penalties:
- Blackmail is a felony leading to up to 10 years imprisonment
- Aggravated blackmail is a felony leading to five to 25 years imprisonment. Aggravated blackmail happens when bodily injury is caused.