What You Need To Know About Blackmail As A Federal Crime

When most people think of blackmail, they think of the crime in its simplest form: you ask someone for money, and if they don’t pay up, you threaten to tell their secret to everyone. While that’s blackmail in the simplest sense, it’s not the only form federal blackmail can take. In fact, there are three elements that must be present in order to prove blackmail as a federal crime, and each of them has some nuances that are easily overlooked by the general public and even by some legal professionals.  The federal crime of blackmail is codified at 18 U.S.C. § 873

What Is The Definition Of Blackmail?

Blackmail is a crime where someone uses information about an individual to get that person to do something.  Blackmail also comes in many forms, such as extorting money from an individual by threatening harm, public embarrassment or revealing private information about that person. To blackmail someone under federal law, you must use more than just fear, force or violence; you must also actually threaten that individual with harm and try to get them to perform some illegal act—for example, giving you money or property.

receiving blackmail

Because blackmail is a federal crime and not necessarily state-specific, it’s best to talk with your attorney if you’re facing any accusations of blackmail. It’s important when talking with an attorney or hiring one for representation that he has experience in handling federal cases.

When it comes to blackmailing federal officials, punishment can be even harsher because these charges fall under 18 U.S.C. §§ 241 and 242—which means violations carry hefty prison sentences and fines up to $250,000 for individuals who intentionally damage a government institution or harass officials through threats of violence or economic harm .

What Are Some Potential Crimes Related To Blackmail?

Among them are extortion, violations of federal trade secrets law, and mail or wire fraud. For example, you could face federal blackmail charges if you threatened to expose someone’s sexuality if they didn’t do what you want. Similarly, blackmail is a federal crime if you threaten to reveal information that may be seen as damaging to someone’s reputation (like accusing them of tax evasion). You could also face blackmail charges if you demanded money in exchange for not revealing certain information or photos; prosecutors would likely see your actions as extortion. Mail and wire fraud laws have also been applied against people who send emails containing threats or emails with copyrighted information attached. If successful, these cases can lead not only to imprisonment but asset forfeiture penalties and restitution orders too.

How Does The Government Prove That A Person Committed A Specific Crime?

Getting blackmailed and giving money under the table

There are several different ways that prosecutors can prove a person committed blackmail. The exact legal elements depend on which specific federal statute they’re using. Broadly speaking, though, there are three essential elements of federal blackmail: (1) obtaining property from another person; (2) by threatening harm to that person or someone else; (3) with intent to cause fear; and, if fear of serious bodily injury or death is present then the crime can become extortion. The government must prove all elements in order for a person to be convicted.

In order to prove “intent” to commit a specific crime, the government will rely upon the defendant’s statements and actions.  For example, the government may have recordings documenting statements that can then be played for a jury to prove intent. 

How Do I Defend Myself Against Federal Criminal Charges?

If you’re under investigation for blackmail, you might not be sure how to respond. Remember that federal prosecutors typically have an easier time winning cases than do state prosecutors. The burden of proof is on them—not you—so don’t make it easy for them by volunteering statements or telling other people details of your activities.  If you’re approached by federal or state law enforcement, politely decline to speak with them until you have an attorney present.  Anything you say to them can end up being used against you.  The American justice system is built upon the concept of due process.  This means you have a Constitutional right to have a lawyer by your side if you’re being accused of something.  Thus, no matter how nice federal agents might seem, do not speak with them until you have a lawyer representing you.   


Former federal prosecutor, respected lawyer committed to delivering results. Following graduation from the University of Illinois College of Law, Paul Padda began his career in 1994 with the United States Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. litigating complex civil cases in both federal trial and appellate courts. He later was selected to serve as an Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.) where he handled a wide array of civil matters in federal court on behalf of the United States of America. In 2004, Mr. Padda moved to Las Vegas to serve as an Assistant United States Attorney where he litigated both civil and criminal cases. Following 16 years of significant legal experience involving high stakes litigation, Mr. Padda decided to form a law firm that would assist individuals and businesses in vindicating their legal rights.