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New York Extortion Crimes: Further Understanding & Defining Blackmail in NYC & Beyond

When we think about a New York larceny (whether it be Petit Larceny or Grand Larceny), most people’s minds immediately conjure up images of black-clad, ski-masked villains entering homes or businesses and making off with other people’s property (technically, that’s actually a Burglary). There are, however, ways that a person can commit larceny without ever donning a ski-mask or even wearing black (surprised?!?!). In New York, a person commits larceny when he or she steals property. Under penal law ยง155.05, stealing is defined as taking, obtaining, or withholding another person’s property with the intent to deprive that person of it. While “taking” someone’s property generally fits the preconceived notion of how one might commit larceny, other ways in which a person may “obtain” or “withhold” property often do not. One method by which someone might steal property in New York by “obtaining” it, for instance, is through Extortion.

Under NY PL 155.05, a person commits New York Grand Larceny by Extortion when he or she compels or induces another person to give up their property by instilling fear that, if the property is not given, the person will injure them, damage their property, commit a crime, expose a secret, testify against that person, abuse a position as a public servant, or perform any other act intended to harm that person. Though it may seem counter-intuitive that, despite the coercion, a person can be charged with “stealing” something that has been been given to them, a larceny by Extortion is treated no differently in New York than any other type of theft.

In People v. Graves, 12 Misc.3d 516, a woman claimed that a person stole her cell phone from out of her purse. The day after the alleged theft, the woman called the phone and, to her surprise, the alleged thief answered. The woman asked him to return her property, but he informed her that he would only do so if she paid him $160. He provided a time and a location for the proposed exchange, and ended the call. Rather than paying him, the woman notified the police. When the thief arrived the following afternoon to collect his money, he was promptly arrested (shockingly, he didn’t see that one coming a mile away).

For his actions, the defendant was charged with Coercion in the Second Degree and Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fifth Degree, both misdemeanors. A person is guilty of Coercion when he or she forces another person to do something by instilling fear that, if the demand is not complied with, the person will damage their property, commit a crime, expose a secret, testify against that person, abuse a position as a public servant, or perform any other act intended to harm that person. A person is guilty of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree when the person knowingly possesses stolen property.

Before trial, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the Coercion charge. In his motion, he argued that he hadn’t threatened to damage the woman’s cell phone and, therefore, the factual allegations against him did not support the charge. The Court rejected this argument, reasoning that although the defendant did not threaten to damage the property, his demand for $160 came with the implied threat that if the money was not paid, he would keep the cell phone. In the Court’s reasoning, withholding the property, while not physically damaging, was the “severest form of damage,” as it completely deprived the owner of the property’s value and foreclosed any hope of repairing it.

The Court continued to explain that, even if withholding the property could not be considered “damage”, the charge would nonetheless stand. Assuming, as the complaint alleged, that the defendant stole the phone, the subsequent threat made by the defendant constituted, “a withholding of the property with the intent to deprive the owner of a major portion of its economic value or benefit.” In the Court’s reasoning, this was actually sufficient to establish the crime of larceny by Extortion.

As the Court explained, a person can also be found guilty of Coercion when he or she forces a person to do something by threatening to commit a crime. When the defendant threatened to keep the phone if she didn’t pay, he threatened to commit larceny by Extortion. As a result, the defendant’s motion to dismiss the charge was denied and the Court granted prosecutors leave to pursue further charges, including larceny by Extortion, against the defendant.

To learn more about the crimes listed above, including New York Blackmail and Extortion, follow the highlighted links to the NewYorkTheftAndLarcenyLawyer.Com website where there a significant amount of legal analysis on New York theft and larceny offenses can be found.

Established and managed by two former Manhattan prosecutors, Saland Law PC is a New York criminal defense firm. Our New York criminal defense attorneys represent clients at all stages of New York white-collar criminal cases throughout the New York City area.

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