Coercion and Extortion

NEW YORK WHITE COLLAR DEFENSE: DISTINGUISHING THE CRIME COERCION FROM EXTORTION UNDER THE NEW YORK PENAL LAW

In the experience of top New York criminal defense lawyers, one of the most commonly charged and confused white collar crimes tried by New York prosecutors are the offenses of Coercion and Extortion. Defined respectively under Sections 155.05(2)(e) and 135.60 of the New York Penal Law, the offenses of Extortion and Coercion are unique in that they criminalize violent or confrontational speech when employed for a particular purpose. What differentiates these two offenses, however, is that purpose. For Coercion, that purpose is to, in the most general sense, control or manipulate another’s actions. For Extortion, that purpose of the speech is to acquire property or otherwise materially benefit at another’s expense. A thin distinction but a meaningful one: Coercion is typically charged as a misdemeanor in white collar cases whereas Extortion is charged, at minimum, as an E felony in New York.

Identifying the fine line between the New York crimes of Coercion and Extortion may be difficult but it is necessary if you hope to avoid criminal liability for either of these two offenses. A brief overview of the law and a consultation with a top New York white collar criminal defense attorney may just help you avoid the career ending consequences of a conviction for Coercion or Extortion in New York.

The Crime of Coercion in New York

Coercion, or as a verb “to coerce,” is the act of creating “compulsion by physical force or threat of physical force.” Black’s Law Dictionary 106 (7th ed. 2001). Its harm has been characterized by the United States Supreme Court as the “interference” of civil liberties and rights of another that occur when they are forced – through the use of threats or intimidation – to commit an act or not commit an act which they have “a legal right to do or to abstain from doing.” Sekhar v. U.S., 133 S.Ct. 2720, 2725 (2013). Although this may have historically been the scope of the offense, in modern day New York the unlawful threatening of another to perform an otherwise lawful act is only one form of the crime of Coercion as defined by the New York Penal Law – the misdemeanor offense of Coercion in the Second Degree. The other is the use of threats to compel another to perform acts they have no legal right to do, such as a) commit or attempt to commit a felony; b) cause or attempt to cause harm to another’s person or property or c) violate his or her duty as a police officer or public servant. For this conduct, New York prosecutors may charge the D Felony crime of Coercion in the First Degree and seek substantially more severe penalties. New York Penal Law § 135.65 (2).

Conviction for a First Degree Coercion charge carries a minimum sentence of incarceration of a year in jail and while non-incarceration alternatives are available, they are likely to be withheld if prosecutors can characterize your actions or purpose as violent in any way. This is not to diminish the adverse effects of being convicted on the lesser charge of Second Degree Coercion: a conviction for this offense, though a misdemeanor, may serve as the factual basis for civil liability, as well as potentially affect any employment and/or professional licenses you may possess whether within or outside the state.

Our experienced defense lawyers can begin preparing a defense to the charges that is both persuasive and appropriate under the circumstances of your case or work with prosecutors to settle the charges with minimal adverse consequences on your employment and livelihood. But the chances of either diminish the longer you wait before retaining an attorney after arrest. Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey Lichtman at (212) 581-1001 and begin the process of taking back control of your life in the aftermath of your arrest for Coercion and/or Extortion allegedly committed in New York State.

For more information on these New York offenses, specifically, the felony offense of Larceny by Extortion, additional articles written by our experienced New York criminal attorneys may be found here.