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New Criminal Law in California in 2018: Sextortion

Jan 9, 2018 | Firm News

Experienced California Criminal Defense Attorney Michael A. Scafiddi Discusses Sextortion

Given the ubiquity of camera phones and digital recording devices, many more people are recording sex with their spouses and partners. There is nothing illegal about consensual recording of those acts. However, choosing to share those images can have legal implications. What happens when that relationship ends? Soon, recordings that were made and shared consensually by playful partners may be used as evidence of a crime by a bitter or jealous ex under new California law.

Beginning on January 1, 2018, “sextortion” is a crime in California. Under California Penal Code section 518, it is now a crime to use the threat of releasing explicit sexual images to demand money, the performance of sex acts, or more images of a sexual nature. While this sort of extortion is clearly inappropriate, my experience as a criminal defense attorney suggests that the law could also be used to exact revenge or to construe consensual sharing of images as criminal.

What is “Sextortion”?

First, you need to understand what traditional “extortion” is. California Penal Code Section 518 describes extortion as “the obtaining of property or other consideration from another, with his or her consent, or the obtaining of an official act of a public officer, induced by wrongful use of force or fear, or under color of official right.” That means that a person “extorts” something when they try to force another person to give them some property. “Consideration” can mean anything of any value—through the threat of some action.  In a nutshell, extortion is forcing someone to give you something out of a wrongful fear.

Sextortion is similar but is forcing someone to give you something of value because they fear you will post sexual pictures or videos of them. The something of value can be money, another sexual act, or more sexual pictures. Under this new law, the threat must be to expose pictures of an actual sex act, such as penetration, oral copulation, or masturbation, not just a discussion of a sexual nature.

Imagine for a moment that you have a consensual sexual relationship that involves making videos of you and your partner having sex or in sharing sexual images of each other individually. Imagine that you have a child together, own a business together, or are co-renters of a property. Now imagine that your relationship dissolves, as they sometimes do. A dispute over rent, business debt, or child custody may quickly ensue.  From our experience, those disputes often quickly turn ugly as people try to leverage whatever they can to get an upper hand.

Even if you have never threatened to share your partner’s sexual images or have only shared them with their consent, your new requests to have access to your child or to receive your partner’s share of the rent may be combined with your past use of sexual digital images to conjure a criminal allegation against you.
Sextortion Penalties are Serious

Unfortunately, sextortion may be easy for law enforcement to prove. Your legitimate requests for payment or some other act may be in the form of a text or email.  Your past sexual acts may be on-line as well. It may come down to the allegations of an ex versus your explanation. Making matters worse, the penalties for extortion are significant; if you are convicted, you could face a potential felony conviction, and two to four years in prison.

Free Confidential Case Consultation

If you or a loved one is contacted or arrested for sextortion, it is an extremely serious situation. You have rights. Do not let innocuous behavior engaged in between you and a former loved one to come back and haunt you when your relationship dissolves and a sextortion claim arises. Call an experienced California criminal defense attorney immediately.  Attorney Scafiddi has experience defending Californians from all types of criminal charges and is standing by to help you today.  Call Attorney Scafiddi at 1-909-381-1000 now to protect your rights.