Understanding New York’s coercion laws

Apr 06 2021

Most people are familiar with the term “extortion.” Under New York state law, it’s referred to as “coercion.”

You might associate coercion with organized crime families or street gangs who offer to “protect” a business in exchange for regular payments or threats that induce the owner to look the other way when certain criminal activity occurs on their premises — and that is one example of coercion. However, there’s more to it than that.

Second-degree coercion

Indeed, a person can be charged with second-degree coercion for causing another party to take (or not take) a specific action based on fear for their safety or the safety of their property. Second-degree coercion can also involve the threat of:

  • Criminal accusations, charges or testimony that could hurt the other party in court
  • Exposure of a secret that would cause “hatred, contempt or ridicule” of the targeted party
  • Some kind of harm that the coercer could cause due to their official position (like refusal to grant a needed liquor license or permits)
  • A boycott or collective action against the person’s business without any just cause

Basically, inducing someone to do or not do something that’s lawful by creating a reasonable fear of just about any type of harm to their safety, property, personal relationships, business, reputation or finances can be considered second-degree coercion. A person convicted of second-degree coercion could face a year behind bars and/or a fine.

First-degree coercion

What if the coercer is trying to get someone to do something illegal? This could be charged as first-degree coercion. Specifically, this type of coercion involves inducing someone to:

  • Engage (or attempt to) in a criminal act that’s a felony
  • Physically harm (or attempt to harm) another person
  • Violate their duty as a public servant

A first-degree coercion conviction carries a sentence of up to 7 years in prison and significant fines – particularly if a coercer benefited financially from their crime.

Whether you have been charged with coercion or you’re facing charges for another illegal action as the victim of coercion, it’s essential that you seek experienced legal guidance. Don’t underestimate the effect of a criminal charge on your life, family, career and reputation.

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