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Is Blackmail Illegal in Texas?

Criminal Law Blog by The Law Office of Greg Tsioros

Is Blackmail Illegal in Texas?

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Is blackmail illegal in Texas? The short answer is yes. Blackmail, also called extortion, is considered a form of theft. It’s not quite robbery, as there isn’t an immediate fear of physical injury for the victim. After all, the blackmailer needs the individual in good enough shape to comply with the demands.

Blackmail and extortion are relatively interchangeable, though some distinguish between the two in various ways. As you read through this post, you’ll learn about those details along with the legal penalties for committing blackmail and what you should do if you face charges of extortion.

Blackmail or Extortion?

As mentioned before, the words are often used interchangeably. Both are theft crimes that involve threats. However, the Texas Penal Code distinguishes them by the conduct used in each act.

Extortion involves using coercion to obtain money, property, or services from the victim. The coercion is usually a threat of violence, a threat to destroy property, or a threat to perform an improper government action if the individual does not comply with the extortion demand.

One definition of coercion in some legal proceedings includes threats to withhold testimony during a court case. 

In the past, extortion was committed only by a public official who refused to perform an official act unless they were paid money. These days, a private citizen can be charged with extortion. It’s commonly prosecuted at the federal level as well as at the state level.

Blackmail, like extortion, is a larceny or theft crime. It also involves making threats, but blackmail does not include threats of violence to a person or property. Instead, the blackmailer threatens to disclose embarrassing information that could damage a person’s reputation within the community, social relationships, family, or career. In return for nondisclosure, the victim must pay with money, property, or services.

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The Conduct of Blackmail or Extortion

There are various types of threats blackmailers and extortionists deliver to obtain what they want. Threats include not only physical violence to the individual or their family but also accusing the victim of committing a crime or revealing damaging or private information.

Threats, intent, fear, and property all play a part in the severity of the penalties

  • Threats – the person must state an intention to commit an injury or harmful action against the victim. The threat can be verbal, in writing, or through other types of communication, including non-verbal gestures.
  • Intent – the person commits extortion through the specific intent of forcing another to provide property, money, or something else of value. It also includes the circumstances and facts surrounding the threat. The prosecutor does not need to prove the defendant’s thoughts to prove intent.
  • Fear – the threat must have the intent to cause fear in the victim. It can be fear of violence, economic loss, deportation, social stigma – anything that could make someone give the blackmailer something of value. However, the victim need not feel fear.
  • Property – anything that has value can be involved in a blackmail scheme. It doesn’t need to be physical property or have a monetary value. The blackmailer needn’t deprive the individual of the property; just attempt to do so.

People commit extortion to gain an array of property, including agreements to do or not do something, like open a competing business. Sexual acts may be the required payment. Some states have specific laws against sexual extortion.

Penalties may include restitution in addition to a fine, particularly when the property is valuable. Restitution is paid to the victim, whereas fines are paid to the State. The court may impose probation, especially for those who fail to complete their extortion plans and no property was lost.

Legal Penalties for Blackmail or Extortion

In Texas, if the value of the property gained is less than $100, extortion or blackmail is a Class C misdemeanor. Typically a fine of $500 is levied but no other punishment. Higher values can shift the charge to a Class B or Class A misdemeanor.

If the gain is $300,000 or more, the charge becomes a first-degree felony. You can be sentenced to between five and 99 years in prison plus a fine of up to $10,000.

For values in between $2,500 and $30,000, Texas considers it a state jail felony. You can get six months to two years in a state jail and a fine of up to $10,000.

Other considerations for sentencing besides the dollar value involved are how the threats were delivered and the type or identity of the victim. Penalties are higher if the threat is against someone who is elderly, young, or a government official. 

For example, if the blackmailer was a public servant, the punishment is elevated one level.

The four factors used by the judge in determining the legal penalty are the actual threat made, the intent of the blackmailer or extortionist, the fear instilled in the victim, and the type of property involved. 

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Statute of Limitations

Texas has a five-year statute of limitations on the crime of blackmail or extortion. The State must bring the case to court and press charges before the five-year deadline. Sometimes the statute is extended or lifted, like if the blackmailer is out of State or already imprisoned on other charges. 

What to Do If You Face Charges of Blackmail or Extortion

Extortion and blackmail are serious crimes that can carry stiff penalties in the form of a lengthy prison sentence and an expensive fine. You need an attorney that can effectively challenge State evidence and expose weaknesses in the case. Remember, the State must prove the case against you beyond a reasonable doubt.

The burden of proof is on them, and they must provide proof of each element of the charge, including coercion. It may be possible to show that the State has insufficient evidence to convict you of extortion or blackmail. Other potential defenses include false accusations of blackmail or a lack of fear or force. 

If you are charged with extortion or blackmail, call Greg Tsioros, an experienced blackmail and extortion lawyer. Our office is prepared to handle any level of charge against you.

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