Ohio Extortion & Blackmail Laws & Charges + Statute of Limitations

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Extortion and blackmail are complex crimes. Traditionally, they only described actions that were taken by government officials or public officials. Today, however, private citizens can also get charged with extortion and blackmail. In many places, extortion and blackmail are one and the same crime, but blackmail is done by private citizens, whereas extortion is done by public and government officials. Either way, it happens when someone tries to get property or money by committing violence or threatening to, by revealing damaging and/or private information about the victim, and/or accusing the victim of a crime.

A number of elements are common in extortion and blackmail cases:

  • Threats – Some type of threat is always made in cases of extortion and blackmail. An intention of committing a harmful action or injury to the victim has to be stated, in other words. This includes threatening to expose a secret, threatening to commit a crime, threatening to report someone to immigration, and more. These threats can be made through any form of communication, verbal or non-verbal.
  • Intent – Those who are accused of extortion or blackmail has to be shown to have had the intent of forcing someone to give them property, money, or anything else of value. Intent is always hard to prove as it is not just based on the statements, but also on the circumstances in the case.
  • Fear – The next element in a blackmail and extortion case is that fear has to have been present in the victim. This could be fear of economic loss, fear of violence, fear of deportation, fear of social stigma, and so on. However, the prosecution does not have to prove that the victim actually experienced fear, but rather that the intent of the defendant was to cause it. Fear is complex also due to the fact that if people experience it, it does not necessarily mean that they are the victim of extortion or blackmail. It has to be shown that the intent to gain property is what caused them fear.
  • Property – The final element of blackmail and extortion is property. Any type of property that has any kind of value can be used for blackmail. It also does not have to be a physical property, nor does it have to have a dollar value. The accused also does not have to have been able to deprive the property of the victim. The attempt to do so is a crime. Common property includes tangible goods, cash, debts, liquor licenses, non-competition agreements, sexual acts, and more.

Laws and Penalties

Under ORC 2905.11 extortion and blackmail is listed as a third degree felony in Ohio. This carries with it a one to five year prison sentence and/or a fine of up to $10,000. It may also be covered under ORC 2903.22 involving menacing behavior, a fourth degree misdemeanor. This is covered by a maximum prison sentence of 30 days and/or a fine of up to $250. Lastly, it may be covered under ORC 2903.11 involving aggravated menacing behavior, a first degree misdemeanor. Penalties involve a prison sentence of up to six months and/or a fine no higher than $1,000. Depending on the nature of the crime, a defendant’s past history, and more, a judge may decide to run these sentences concurrently, meaning the accused may need to serve all three sentences.

Extortion/Blackmail Defenses

The most common defense for extortion and blackmail is insufficient evidence. Intent is always important in legal cases, which is why a common defense will be that there was no intent to commit a crime. Proving factual innocence is also a common defense, as is proving intoxication, insanity, or incapacity. Some lawyers will try to prove that the defendant already owned the property, or that the defendant didn’t own it. Lastly, they may try to prove that there was no fear, force, or threat present, and that consent was given.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations determines how soon after a crime has been committed will the state have to bring the case against the defendant. Should the state bring a case against someone after that time period, the case can be dismissed. In Ohio, the statute of limitations for a third degree felony is five years.

Ohio Extortion/Blackmail Cases