Each state has its own set of extortion laws and New York only varies in the terminology it uses. Instead of extortion, these crimes are called coercion and the crime is distinguished into two types. These types, or degrees, separate the crime of coercion according to the severity of the acts. Before looking at the different degrees set forth by New York penal law, it’s helpful to take a deeper look at the definition of coercion.
What is Coercion?
Essentially, extortion or coercion is the act of forcing another to commit an illegal act or to refrain from acting in a legal or moral manner. The law also requires that, through compelling or coercing another in this manner, the person committing the extortion will gain money, property, or something else of value. The material gain is a condition of proving coercion.
There are many ways to commit coercion, though they can be simplified to just a few main categories. An individual may be coerced through threatening or actually engaging in acts of violence, causing or threatening to cause property damage, threatening to cause or causing humiliation or harm to one’s reputation, or through threatening to cause or causing a government action (deportation, criminal charges, imprisonment, etc.).
Coercion in the Second Degree
The New York penal code identifies the previously mentioned conditions for coercion, giving more detail to the types of fear or acts used to cause a victim of coercion to act. In addition to instilling the fear of physical injury or the damaging of one’s property, coercion can also be established through the threat of perpetrating other crimes against the individual. Conversely, there may be threats of bringing criminal charges against the individual, unless he or she acts in accordance with the wishes of the extortioner.
Blackmail is also a form of extortion or coercion, where the victim is threatened with the divulging of a secret. The victim may fear public humiliation or scornful reactions from others, if the secret is divulged. For that reason, he or she may feel compelled to act as directed. Along similar lines, the threat of a boycott of one’s business by a group is also considered coercion under New York law.
As a government official, one may commit coercion by threatening to use his position to harm the victim. Threatening to testify against the victim in an open court case can also be a form of coercion. Since these conditions may not cover every circumstance, the law also adds that coercion is established, when one person threatens another with harm to his or her health, career, personal relationships, financial status, or reputation.
As a class A misdemeanor, second degree coercion carries a penalty of up to one year of imprisonment or a fine of up to $1,000. In some cases, a conviction may carry both the imprisonment and the fine.
First Degree Coercion
The penal law regarding coercion in the first degree specifies that the threat of violence to cause physical injury or property damage must be established. The victim must feel fear of these threats being acted upon, as well. It’s the fear of the violence that compels the victim to act in accordance with the extortionist’s wishes.
The law also establishes that the victim may be coerced to commit the following acts out of that fear:
- Commit a felony crime
- Attempt to commit a felony crime
- Cause physical injury to another person
- Attempt to cause physical injury to another person
- Violate his or her duty, when the victim of coercion is a public servant
Coercion in the first degree is a class D felony in New York. As such, it carries a prison term of three to seven years. A fine over $5,000 may also be demanded, or the court may require the defendant to pay double the gain he or she received as a result of the coercion.
Whether second degree or first degree, charges of coercion are serious crimes to face. It’s important to hire an experienced New York City attorney, when faced with this type of situation. A lawyer knowledgeable about the coercion laws can help you achieve a better outcome in your case and may be able to recognize mitigating circumstances that can help reduce the charges.