Under North Carolina General Statute § 14-118.4, extortion, happens when any person threatens or communicates a threat or threats to another with the intent to wrongfully obtain anything of value or any acquittance, advantage, or immunity.

If found guilty of extortion, a person faces a class F Felony. A class F Felony carries a maximum punishment of 59 months. Most importantly, sentencing depends on a number of factors, including but not limited to, prior record level.

What is a Sufficient Threat Under Extortion?

The North Carolina courts have held that any threat made with the intention to wrongfully obtain anything of value, property, advantage, or immunity is covered under extortion. Further, for example, offering to refrain from pressing criminal charges in exchange for money may amount to a threat under extortion. Additionally, economic harm, not just physical violence, is sufficient to constitute extortion. Moreover, even the fear of economic harm satisfies the definition of extortion according to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

Is Extortion (verbal threats) Covered Under the First Amendment?

Recently, the Court of Appeals has explained that extortion, in and of itself is a crime. Therefore, the content in which the speech is derived from is not protected under the First Amendment. Specifically, the Court stated that extortion has no more constitutional protection than the words said by a robber while ordering a victim to hand over the money. The robber’s speech does not have any protective at all under the First Amendment right to free speech.

Is Extortion the Same as Blackmail?

Absolutely not! Under N.C.G.S. § 14.118, blackmail occurs if any person shall knowingly send or deliver any letter or writing demanding of any other person, with menaces (intent of danger, fear, evil) and without reasonable or probable cause.

These letters and writings can include demands for property, money, or valuable securities. Additionally, a written demand accusing or threatening to accuse another person of any crime is considered blackmailing.

If found guilty of blackmailing, a person faces a class 1 misdemeanor. A class 1 misdemeanor is the second highest misdemeanor in North Carolina.