Pennsylvania Extortion Laws
In Pennsylvania, extortion is a theft-related offense. A person commits theft by extortion when he or she “intentionally obtains or withholds property of another” by making one of several threats specified in the statute. Specifically, the person must threaten to:
- commit another crime
- accuse another person of a crime
- expose any secret tending to subject any person to hatred, contempt or ridicule
- take or withhold action as an official, or cause an official to take or withhold action
- bring about or continue a strike, boycott or other collective unofficial action, if property is not demanded or received for the benefit of the group the person purports to represent
- testify or provide information, or withhold testimony or information, with respect to another person’s legal claim or defense
- inflict any other harm which would not benefit the person making the threat
The element of threatening conduct in a theft by extortion offense necessitates the defendant’s use of coercion or intimidation in committing the crime. Moreover, there must be a causal relationship between the threat and the victim’s surrender of property.
“Value” Element of Extortion
Property that may obtained by extortion includes “anything of value, including real estate, tangible and intangible personal property, contract rights, chooses-in-action and other interests in or claims to wealth, admission or transportation tickets, captured or domestic animals, food and drink, electric or other power.” In addition, according to the state theft statute, “property of another” includes property in which any person other than the actor has an interest which the actor is not privileged to infringe, even if the actor also has an interest in the property, and even if the other person might be precluded from recovering civil damages because the property was used in an unlawful transaction or was subject to forfeiture as contraband.
Theft offenses are primarily “graded” by the Pennsylvania theft statute according to the value of the property stolen, as well as the circumstances of the theft or the nature of the property involved. Thus, theft committed by means of taking property from the person or by threat, or in breach of a fiduciary obligation, constitutes a misdemeanor of the first degree; theft wherein the amount involved was between $50 and $200 constitutes a misdemeanor of the second degree; and theft wherein the amount involved was less than $50 constitutes a misdemeanor of the third degree.
On the higher end of the spectrum, any theft offense wherein the amount involved exceeds $2,000 — or where the stolen property consists of an automobile, airplane, motorcycle, motorboat or other motor-propelled vehicle — is graded as a third degree felony. See the box below for more information.
For purposes of grading theft offenses, the amount involved in a theft — that is, the underlying property’s “value” — is generally considered to be the market value of the property at the time and place of the crime, or, if such value cannot be satisfactorily ascertained, the cost of replacement of the property within a reasonable time after the crime.