Although there is no statute or crime in the New York Penal Law specifically called blackmail there are other crimes and torts that can be used to punish people for requiring the payment of money in exchange for not destroying one’s reputation or social status. New York criminalizes blackmail through statutes that prohibit larceny by extortion, coercion, unlawfully recording sexual acts, and unlawful dissemination or publication of an intimate image.
If you have been arrested for crimes associated with blackmail or sued for torts associated with blackmail call our experienced New York defense attorneys today for a free consultation.
Civil actions taken against those accused of blackmail include defamation torts which often come with severe punitive penalties, and intentional torts like tortious interference with a contractual relationship and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Civil remedies also have a lower standard of proof than criminal ones, making them easier to prove.
The practice of blackmail is stereotypically associated with the sex trade wherein cheating spouses or powerful people are clandestinely recorded by prostitutes, strippers, or pimps and then threatened with exposure in exchange for cash. Nothing could be further from the truth. Legitimate journalistic activity like exposing racists, bigots, perverts, and criminals who hold political offices or hold high social status can be unjustly criminalized. Those with deep pockets are often the first to try defend their reputation by legally bullying people into submission with defamation claims. These defamation claims have a specific name, strategic lawsuits against pubic participation or SLAPP lawsuits. These lawsuits are against public policy therefore many states, including New York passed laws prohibiting SLAPP suits, called anti-SLAPP laws.
New York, unfortunately has some of the weakest anti-SLAPP protections of any state in the nation. The scope of New York’s anti-SLAPP law is so narrow that it only prohibits lawsuits where the plaintiff is applying for some sort of permit, and the plaintiff’s defamation claim is related to important information that is linked to attempts by the defendant to speak out against the plaintiff’s application for a permit. Since SLAPP lawsuits originate in a wide variety of contexts the New York statute really does little to protect activists looking to expose the truth.
Despite this, truth is always a defense to defamation. With adequate evidence that the claims made are true, motions to dismiss may be filed and a defamation claim dismissed. If defamation claims do not bully activists into being quiet, people with an interest in protecting their reputation may resort to filing criminal charges.
One who is accused of blackmail usually has either threatened to or has released embarrassing photographs or video. Although this may trigger criminal liability for some, others may be protected by statutory defenses. New York Penal Law 245.15, the “revenge porn” law criminalizes the dissemination of pornography where, when a defendant intends to cause mental, pecuniary, or bodily harm to a victim and that defendant publishes pornography where the victim can be identified without the victim’s consent, and the victim had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the pornography, without regard for whether the defendant was present or not when the pornography was taken.
There are several statutory defenses to this crime. First, this law does not apply to reporting on sex crimes or other unlawful behavior. Second, pictures or video taken during medical, legal and law enforcement procedures also are exempt from prosecution. Finally, exposure to the public which was done of the “victim’s” own volition, both in commercial and public settings, or the broadcasting of an intimate image that was made for justified purposes that serve the public are also exempted from punishment under the revenge porn law. As noted above, if one is reporting on criminal conduct and they are prosecuted under the revenge porn law and accused of blackmail strong defenses may exist.
If you or someone you know has been accused of blackmail call our offices today for a free consultation. Our New York blackmail lawyers can evaluate any criminal charges or civil suits brought against you and we may be able to help you reduce or escape liability. Call our offices today for a free consultation.