Friday, March 02, 2007

Dial "B" For Blackmail?

Doug at below the beltway has an interesting piece about the California madam who ran an escort service in DC. Finally we get a good old fashioned scandal in the making. Nothing like commercial sex to get the newspapers smokin' the presses.

Reading his post raised a question that has been in my mind for years, but I've never received a satisfactory answer. Steve Minor, Eric Monday, Brian Patton, Ken Lammers, Roger Jarrell; I'm counting on one of you guys for an answer.

Just why is blackmail illegal? Don't get me wrong, I don't mean the type of action where I threaten to spread untrue information about someone unless they pay me enough. And maybe come back for a second helping later. That is definitely immoral, as well as illegal. I'm speaking instead of the following hypothetical situation;

I have documents, legally obtained, that could be embarrassing to a powerful and or wealthy individual. I state my intentions to publish that information unless he or she is willing to outbid my publisher. Have I committed blackmail? Is it not simply capitalism? Is what I've done morally wrong? Is it legally wrong? If it's not morally wrong, yet still legally wrong, why is that?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow! That is an interesting article and the situation it describes raises many legal issues in a variety of areas.

To specifically answer your question as to why blackmail is illegal, I'll focus on your hypo.

Extortion and blackmail often get confused with one another. Blackmail is a menacing demand made without justification.

Extortion is something different. Here is a typical statutory definition of extortion:

711.4 Extortion.

A person commits extortion if the person does any of the following with the purpose of obtaining for oneself or another anything of value, tangible or intangible, including labor or services:
3. Threatens to expose any person to hatred, contempt, or ridicule.

4. Threatens to harm the credit or business or professional reputation of any person.

Our most sinister crimes involve "a guilty mind" -- or mens rea. Mens rea is the state of mind that the prosecution must prove to secure conviction of certain crimes.

Mens rea plus the act ("Actus reus") = the crime.

With your hypo, the intent requirement seems to hinge on your statement "unless he or she is willing to outbid my publisher."

Would that be extortion, I tend to think so.

Now, getting back to the Pamela Martin & Associates article you referenced. Is the defendant's demand for funds extortion as referenced in the article?

Short answer: I'm not sure. The reason is that it would be very difficult to prove what her intention is. She hasn't made this threat to anyone specifically. Nevertheless, she is walking the line and it may come back to hurt her.

Her demand is vague but the threat is clear. The problem is that she isn't saying, "You John Doe, pay $300 into my legal fund or I will release your telephone number to People Magazine."

I'll certainly defer to a criminal lawyer on this one but those are my thoughts in a nutshell.

Roger "Rowhey" Jarrell