I live in California. It is illegal for people record my video and voice in a private area without my permission.

In a normal situation, I think that I can call police.

However, can I ask the person provide me money in exchange that I am not going to call police?

  • Just because the crime was perpetrated against you doesn't make it any less extortion if you use the threat for personal gain. – Ron Beyer Jun 19 '18 at 1:47

However, can I ask the person provide me money in exchange that I am not going to call police?

First of all, the conduct you describe is a tort, in addition to possibly being a crime, and so you could ask them to provide you with money in exchange for a release from tort liability (i.e. not suing them). This is done all of the time and is perfectly legal, although if one is afraid of extortion claims, the safer course would be to file the lawsuit first (and possibly also report the crime to the police first) and then to seek money damages. Once a criminal complaint has been filed and an accusation made publicly, there is no "extortion" element.

A lawyer would not be permitted as a matter of professional ethics from proposing a settlement in exchange for not contacting the police, but could obtain money with a threat of civil liability.

This is not obviously within the definition of extortion, because reporting them for committing an actual crime would not necessarily be "wrongful" conduct in every situation, and wrongful use of "fear" is one of the elements of the California crime for extortion. But, it is clearly within the definition of "fear" which is defined to mean:

Fear, such as will constitute extortion, may be induced by a threat of any of the following:

  1. To do an unlawful injury to the person or property of the individual threatened or of a third person.

  2. To accuse the individual threatened, or a relative of his or her, or a member of his or her family, of a crime.

  3. To expose, or to impute to him, her, or them a deformity, disgrace, or crime.

  4. To expose a secret affecting him, her, or them.

  5. To report his, her, or their immigration status or suspected immigration status.

This definition makes no reference to the validity of the accusation.

It might be possible to determine with more case law research when threatening to report a crime that they have committed is "wrongful use" of "fear".

My expectation is that this is something of a gray area and may be quite fact specific (it is not a point upon which there is great uniformity between U.S. states).

This excerpt from a California Supreme Court decision helps clarify the line between a legitimate threat and an extortionate one (case law citations and references omitted), and tends to suggest that insisting on money, hinging on a threat that the a criminal complaint will be made otherwise, does constitute extortion in the State of California, even when made by the victim in the case of a crime that was actually committed:

  1. Extortion

“Extortion is the obtaining of property from another, with his consent ... induced by a wrongful use of force or fear....” (Pen.Code, § 518.) Fear, for purposes of extortion “may be induced by a threat, either: [¶] ... [¶] 2. To accuse the individual threatened ... of any crime; or, [¶] 3. To expose, or impute to him ... any deformity, disgrace or crime[.]” (Pen.Code, § 519.) “Every person who, with intent to extort any money or other property from another, sends or delivers to any person any letter or other writing, whether subscribed or not, expressing or implying, or adapted to imply, any threat such as is specified in Section 519, is punishable in the same manner as if such money or property were actually obtained by means of such threat.” (Pen.Code, § 523.)

Extortion has been characterized as a paradoxical crime in that it criminalizes the making of threats that, in and of themselves, may not be illegal. “[I]n many blackmail cases the threat is to do something in itself perfectly legal, but that threat nevertheless becomes illegal when coupled with a demand for money.”

The extortion statutes “all adopted at the same time and relating to the same subject matter, clearly indicate that the legislature in denouncing the wrongful use of fear as a means of obtaining property from another had in mind threats to do the acts specified in section 519, the making of which for the purpose stated is declared to be a wrongful use of fear induced thereby.” “It is the means employed [to obtain the property of another] which the law denounces, and though the purpose may be to collect a just indebtedness arising from and created by the criminal act for which the threat is to prosecute the wrongdoer, it is nevertheless within the statutory inhibition. The law does not contemplate the use of criminal process as a means of collecting a debt.” In Beggs “we explained that because of the strong public policy militating against self-help by force or fear, courts will not recognize a good faith defense to the satisfaction of a debt when accomplished by the use of force or fear”; For purposes of extortion “[i]t is immaterial that the money which petitioner sought to obtain through threats may have been justly due him”; “The law of California was established in 1918 that belief that the victim owes a debt is not a defense to the crime of extortion”.

Moreover, threats to do the acts that constitute extortion under Penal Code section 519 are extortionate whether or not the victim committed the crime or indiscretion upon which the threat is based and whether or not the person making the threat could have reported the victim to the authorities or arrested the victim. Furthermore, the crime with which the extortionist threatens his or her victim need not be a specific crime. “[T]he accusations need only be such as to put the intended victim of the extortion in fear of being accused of some crime. The more vague and general the terms of the accusation the better it would subserve the purpose of the accuser in magnifying the fears of his victim, and the better also it would serve to protect him in the event of the failure to accomplish his extortion and of a prosecution for his attempted crime.”

Attorneys are not exempt from these principles in their professional conduct. Indeed, the Rules of Professional Conduct specifically prohibit attorneys from “threaten[ing] to present criminal, administration, or disciplinary charges to obtain an advantage in a civil dispute.” (Cal. Rules of Prof. Conduct, rule 5–100(A).)

In Libarian v. State Bar we upheld disciplinary action against Librarian who, after losing at trial, sent a letter to opposing counsel, accusing his opponent's client of perjury and threatening to use the perjury charge as the basis of a new trial motion and a criminal complaint unless opposing counsel's client paid Librarian's client. “Although no action was taken either by Librarian or Siegel to prosecute Nadel, the record clearly shows conduct which is in violation of Librarian's oath and duties as an attorney. The threats contained in the letter indicate an attempt to commit extortion. The sending of a threatening letter with intent to extort money is ‘punishable in the same manner as if such money ... were actually obtained’ (Pen.Code, § 523) and the crime of extortion involves moral turpitude.” The conduct of an attorney who threatened an oil company with reporting adulteration of its gasoline to the prosecutor unless it paid his clients was not only grounds for disbarment but “constituted an attempt to extort money as said crime is defined in sections 518, 519 and 524 of the Penal Code”; attorney's suggestion in letter demanding $175,000 settlement in divorce case that he might advise his client to report husband to Internal Revenue Service and United States Custom Service constituted “veiled threats [that] exceeded the limits of respondent's representation of his client in the divorce action” and supported attorney's extortion conviction]. As these cases illustrate, a threat that constitutes criminal extortion is not cleansed of its illegality merely because it is laundered by transmission through the offices of an attorney. Bearing these principles in mind, we turn to the instant case.

Flatley v. Mauro, 139 P.3d 2, 15–21 (Cal. 2006).

  • I think this is exactly why "you need to talk to a lawyer" is so often the answer to legal questions. You brought up a great point, that the difference between extorting someone and negotiating a settlement with them boils down to "release from civil liability" being what's paid. Pretty insightful! – Brett Allen Jun 19 '18 at 18:20

Here is the California law pertaining to the crime of extortion. It would be extortion to make such a demand, but it is not a crime to simply report a crime, or to threaten to report a crime with no implication that you will refrain from reporting in exchange for something of value. The crime is defined as

the obtaining of property or other consideration from another, with his or her consent, or the obtaining of an official act of a public officer, induced by a wrongful use of force or fear, or under color of official right.

The relevant types of fear include accusing or imputing to a person a crime. It could be a crime to record someone's voice without permission, but the wiretapping law does not apply to taking a person's picture (trespassing is another crime; it's unclear what you mean by "recording in a private area"). This raises the interesting question, which has not been tested in California court as far as I know, whether you can invent a bogus crime ("wearing white after Labor Day") and use the potential accusation of that supposed crime to instill fear in a person (even though there is no such crime). I would bet that there is no requirement that the underlying accusation actually be a crime: so the difference between accusing a person of actually violating the law, and accusing them of performing a lawful act, is non-existent.

  • This would use some amplification; as ohwilleke says, it is not clear that threatening to report an actual crime is 'wrongful' . – Tim Lymington Jun 19 '18 at 16:20

Sounds like extortion, which is illegal under Penal Code section 518.

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