How Threatening to Ruin Someone’s Career Can Lead to Felony Charges in Florida
Some people think that a white collar criminal charge does not carry the same weight as an accusation involving a violent offense. But that is not how criminal law works in Florida. Indeed, many non-violent offenses carry the potential for long prison sentences.
For example, extortion is a felony of the second degree in Florida. The legal definition of the crime is “maliciously” threatening someone with the intent to extort money from them. The threat in this case does not necessarily mean one of physical violence. Threatening to ruin someone’s reputation in the community is extortion if the goal is to get them to pay money.
Florida Supreme Court: “Actual Malice” Not Required for Extortion Conviction
The Florida Supreme Court also recently clarified that the state’s extortion law does not require proof that the defendant actually hated their victim. The case before the Court, Tomlinson v. State, resolved a split between two intermediate appellate courts on this issue. The underlying case involved a nasty dispute among a group of real estate brokers.
The defendant filed a complaint with the Miami Association of Realtors alleging that two fellow brokers had improperly manipulated listing data to prevent competitors from courting their clients. The two accused brokers admitted to “altering” data. But as the grievance process continued, the defendant met with the two brokers and allegedly escalated his threats. He said he would “ruin” their careers by telling the press what they had done and pursue a further grievance with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation against their licenses. But he also promised to make the whole thing “go away” in exchange for $400,000/
The two accused brokers went to the police, who arranged to record a follow-up conversation between the brokers and the defendant. On this call, the brokers said they would pay the $400,000. But then he asked for $800,000. Eventually, the police arrested the defendant and charged him with two counts of extortion. A jury subsequently convicted the defendant on all charges.
On appeal, the defendant argued the jury was improperly instructed with respect to “malice,” an element of criminal extortion in Florida. The trial court said this meant legal malice, i.e., that the defendant acted “intentionally and without any lawful justification.” The defense argued that malice meant “actual malice,” i.e., that the defendant had personal hatred or animosity towards the brokers.
The Florida Third District Court of Appeal rejected this argument and upheld the defendant’s sentence. The Florida Supreme Court then agreed to review the case, because in an unrelated decision the Fifth District Court of Appeal held that malice did, in fact, require proof of actual malice. The Supreme Court agreed with the Third District’s interpretation, holding that malice only required proof the defendant acted intentionally and without lawful justification.
Speak with an Orlando White Collar Criminal Defense Attorney Today
If you are accused of a white collar crime, it is important that you seek legal advice and representation from an Orlando criminal defense attorney experienced in handling felony cases. Contact the Joshi Law Firm, PA, today to schedule a free initial consultation.