According to California enacted laws, it is illegal to obtain another person’s signature for any legal document by extortion. While it may seem like a petty offense, signature extortion is a very serious crime and is classified as a felony.
Felonies in the state of California carry heavy penalties if found guilty. Signature extortions are often carried out for material gain. That said, whether the intent of the extortion was met or not, the offender – if found guilty – will face punishment.
A defendant can, however, avoid conviction by presenting a viable defense. We’ll review and break down the California Penal Code 522 to help you understand the inference of signature extortion.
What Is Extortion of a Signature?
According to the California Penal Code 522 PC, extortion of a signature is obtaining a person’s signature through coercion, intimidation, threats, or other illegal means. The defendant may intend to use the extorted signature to gain access to vital information or for personal gain at the expense of the victim.
The basis of signature extortion is that the victim has to be the one to sign the document, although unwillingly. Forging a signature does not count as extortion.
Instances where extortion of a signature may occur include:
- If the defendant obtains a signature from an individual through the following means:
- Threatening to expose the victim’s secrets or those of people connected to the victim
- Injuring the victim, their family, or associate
- Destruction of the victim’s property or their associates’ property
- Accusing the victim or their associates of a crime
- If the defendant intends to use the acquired signature on a check or documents that would transfer property, cause debt or call for legal action.
- The victim signs the check or document as a result of the threats or violence.
What Counts As Extortion of Signature?
Examples of illegal acts under the CA Penal Code 522 include:
- An alleged defendant, threatening to harm a victim if they fail to sign the defendant a check
- The defendant threatening to reveal secrets about the victim’s spouse unless the victim writes a will leaving all their property to the defendant
- The defendant threatening to accuse their parents of a crime unless the parents transfer all their money to the defendant’s account
Whether the defendant actualized the transfer of property from the supposed victim, or not, does not matter; so long as the victim signed the documents under threats or pressure.
If the defendant is found guilty of extorting a signature even if they did not gain anything from it, they will still face the same judgment as one who gained from the extorted signature.
CA Code 522- Extortion of signature is different from CA Penal Code 518- extortion by posing as a kidnapper, which involves obtaining money or reward by holding a victim hostage.
What Are the Penalties of Extortion of a Signature?
Violating the CA Penal Code 522 is a felony crime under California state law. If found guilty, the defendant is punishable by:
- A maximum fine not exceeding $10,000, and/or
- County jail or prison term for up to four years
The judge might also opt to award the defendant a felony or formal probation, depending on their criminal history.
Possible Legal Defenses for Extortion of a Signature?
The defendant or their lawyer can raise a legal defense to dispute the extortion of a signature accusation. A valid defense can dismiss the extortion of signature claims or reduce the charges.
The three most common and valid defenses for extortion of a signature include:
- There was no signature: the defender might get a competent criminal defense lawyer who can prove to the court that despite the threats, no signature was granted to the defendant.
- The signature was granted willingly with no threats or violence: the defendant can only be convicted if threats were used to get the signature. If the signature was granted in good grace, there is no case to answer for the defendant.
- There was no solid cause for arresting the defendant: the police need a valid reason to arrest someone. If there was no cause for arrest, evidence acquired after the arrest of the defendant can be nullified.
Prosecutors must present a solid case and prove, with no doubt, that the defendant is guilty.
What Offenses Are Related to Extortion of a Signature?
There are other penal codes that are closely related to CA Penal Code 522. These penal codes give further directives on extortion and illegal acquisition of property through robbery.
These laws include:
PC 526: Extortion by Fake Court Order
The California Penal Code 523 PC states that it is a criminal offense for a person to perform extortion, or blackmail by sending threats through letters.
The defendant is bound to be guilty if:
- They send or deliver letters carrying threats to the alleged victim
- Threatens the victim, associate people, and their property
- If the defendant intends to use the issues of threats to acquire money, property, or official actions from the victim
Violation of PC 256 is convicted as a felony, punishable by:
- A fine of up to $10,000 and/or
- County jail or prison term of two to four years.
PC 211: Robbery
Robbery is a felony crime according to the CA 211 PC of California enacted laws. Robbery is defined as illegal possession of someone’s property, without their consent, obtained through force or fear instigation.
A defendant convicted for breaking PC 211 is a state felon, punishable by a state jail term between two and nine years, depending on the severity of the crime.
PC 523: Extortion By Threatening Letter
Committing extortion by issuing a fake court order is classified as a misdemeanor crime by the CA Penal Code 526 PC. The crime is punishable by:
- A county jail term of up to six months, and/or
- A fine of up to $1,000.
Get Help for Your Signature Extortion Case From a Qualified Lawyer Today
Have you been charged with extortion of a signature crime? Do not proceed with the charges without consulting a competent attorney first. Our legal experts at Los Angeles DUI attorneys offer high-quality legal help throughout California.
If you are facing signature extortion charges or any DUI-related charges, contact us. Our team of highly experienced attorneys will provide you with a professional representation for your case.