Brief Fact Summary. Defendants are managers of a supermarket and are accused of obtaining money from a customer by the wrongful use of fear. A jury found them guilty of extortion.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. An individual who collects money by the use of fear induced by means of threats to accuse a debtor of a crime can be convicted of extortion even though he believed the debtor was guilty of the theft of an employer’s goods. It makes no difference whether the debtor stole any goods, or how much he stole.
However we may classify the case, the rule is firmly established that in relation to husband and wife or parent and child each may avoid a contract induced and obtained by threats of imprisonment of the other, and it is of no consequence whether the threat is of a lawful or unlawful imprisonment.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Were the Defendants guilty of extortion even though Smith admittedly stole merchandise from the store?
Held. Yes. The conviction is affirmed.
The applicable statute reads: “extortion is the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, inducted by a wrongful use of fear.”
Fear may be induced by an oral or written threat. The extortion statutes were intended to prevent the collection of money by the use of fear induced by means of threats to accuse a debtor of a crime.
The Defendants’ “good faith” in enforcing payment of the money allegedly stolen is not a defense.
Dissent. Judge Wenzel dissenting: If the Defendants acted without malice and in good faith, they are not guilty of the crime charged if they made an honest mistake. The necessary mens rea would be lacking. The Defendants were not acting in their own behalf. The acted on behalf of their employer in recovering what they believed was rightfully owed.
Discussion. The law does not authorize the collection of existing debts by threatening to accuse the debtor of a crime, despite the fact that the debtor is in fact guilty. It does not matter whether the indebtedness for which a defendant demands repayment is one stemming from the crime for the prosecution of which he threatens the debtor, or is entirely independent and has no connection with the crime forming the basis of the accusation.