In the news recently has been the reversal by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals of a felony conviction of a man for attempting to blackmail a state senator. The original conviction arose out of an email communication sent by the alleged blackmail or to the senator, which claimed that if the senator did not choose a course of action on pending legislation then he would be subject to efforts to delve into his past, including that of his family and associates, presumably to look for embarrassing information.

The senator turned the email over to police, which eventually led to the prosecution and conviction of the sender on counts of blackmail and violation of the state Computer Crimes Act.

On appeal, the sender of the email argued that his communication to the senator was politically protected speech and therefore could not be used as the basis for a blackmail conviction. In its ruling the Court of Appeals held that the communication was not coercive because there was no evidence that the senator was being compelled to do anything against his will. It went further to hold that the defendant had been prematurely prosecuted for blackmail because the email that he sent did not threaten to do any act prohibited by the blackmail and extortion statute and as such was, although obnoxious, still protected by the First Amendment. It’s reversal of the blackmail conviction also led to a reversal of the conviction under the Computer Crimes Act.

Two judges dissented from the three-judge majority opinion, claiming that in their view the email message did rise to the level required to constitute a violation of law and that the majority interpretation of the law did not comport with the role of the court to construe the statute according to its plain and ordinary meaning.

Blackmail and extortion: how they are defined under Oklahoma law

Nonlawyers can tend to use the terms “blackmail” and “extortion” interchangeably, but there are differences between them that make them distinct crimes.

Extortion: extortion is defined as obtaining property (including a signature on a writing meant to transfer property or to create a note evidencing a debt) of someone else without the subject’s consent. Extortion is a misdemeanor when the means used to coerce the other person is connected with abuse by a public official , such as misuse of a person’s political or governmental office. Felony extortion is a result of the use of force or threats. In essence, extortion is a form of theft.

Blackmail: blackmail occurs when one person sends communication to another seeking to extort or to acquire something of value from that person or to make that person do something against his or her will. Under the applicable statute, accusing or threatening to accuse someone of a crime or other unsavory conduct or exposing or threatening to expose information about that person which would subject him to social ridicule or contempt are two general ways that the law can apply (a third is to threaten to report a person as being in the United States illegally). Although the statute uses the term “extort” in its text, the main difference between blackmail and extortion is that blackmail not always involve an attempt to take property from another: sometimes it’s intent is to coerce the subject into taking action or to refrain from doing so.

If you or a loved one has been charged with an Oklahoma crime, contact the Oklahoma Criminal Defense lawyers at 405-231-5600 or complete the online form.