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Legal defenses to extortion in Pennsylvania

A previous blog post discussed the possible penalties for extortion in Pennsylvania. A conviction for extortion may result in a fine of up to $15,000 and up to seven years' imprisonment, depending on the value of the property that was extorted. There are some legal defenses to the crime of extortion in Pennsylvania which may be asserted depending on the circumstances of the case.

Defendants may claim that the prosecution has insufficient evidence to prove that they committed extortion. To prove extortion, it must be demonstrated that the defendant intentionally took or withheld another's property by threatening to: commit or accuse another of a criminal offense, expose a secret that would subject the person to hatred contempt or ridicule, use one's status as an official to take or withhold action, cause a strike or boycott, testify or withhold information in court or inflict other forms of harm if certain demands are not met. If each element of extortion cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant may not be convicted.

Another defense that may be asserted is indemnification. If the property obtained by threat of accusation, exposure, lawsuit or other official action was honestly claimed as restitution or indemnification for related harm done or as compensation for property or lawful services, a defendant may claim this defense. The use of interstate commerce in connection with the extortion may lead to federal investigations and charges.

Those charged with extortion face serious penalties upon conviction at the state and federal level. Federal extortion can carry up to a 20-year prison sentence, in addition to hefty fines, probation, parole and restitution. Given the complex nature of extortion, defendants facing charges may wish to obtain assistance from an experienced white collar crimes attorney.

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