Extortion is committed when a defendant takes property from the victim through threats or coercion. The difference between extortion and robbery is that the threats required for robbery must put the victim in fear of imminent harm whereas the threats required for extortion do not. For example:
EXAMPLE (1): Ernest has bought a brand new crystal wine decanter that Julio wants. Julio threatens that if Ernest does not hand over the decanter immediately, Julio will beat Ernest with a crowbar. Ernest hands over the decanter. In this case, Julio has committed robbery.
EXAMPLE (2): Ernest has just bought a new crystal wine decanter that Julio wants. Julio threatens that if Ernest does not hand over the decanter immediately, Julio will send Ernest’s wife photographs of Ernest with another woman. This is considered extortion.
Again, the threats required for extortion are different from those required for robbery, either because they do not involve the threat of harm which is necessary for robbery, or because the harm is threatened is not imminent. Typically, threats to injure the victim or his property, threats to accuse the victim or a family member of the victim of a crime, threats to disgrace the victim, or threats to expose any secret that would adversely affect the victim, are all considered adequate threats for extortion. However, in order to win a conviction, the prosecution must show that the victim handed over the property that the defendant demanded as a result of the threat. If the threat was not the reason the victim handed over the property, the defendant can not be convicted of extortion.
At common law, extortion is a felony, and it remains so under modern statutes.