More people commit the federal crime of blackmail than ever get prosecuted. In our opinion, this is a good thing because the statute is entirely too broad. Under 18 U.S.C. § 873 the crime of Blackmail is set forth as follows:
"Whoever, under a threat of informing, or as a consideration for not informing, against any violation of any law of the United States, demands or receives any money or other valuable thing, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both."
Under a strict interpretation of this statute, there is no place for problems to ever be resolved outside the criminal justice system. For example, assume a young man makes a foolish decision to vandalize a car on federal land (we need federal jurisdiction for our hypothetical to work) and throws a rock at a window. His parents find out, and they march him over to her house to apologize. They beg her not to call the police which would give their son a criminal record. Instead, they ask if she would be so kind as to let their son pay for the damage without involving the police. The woman agrees. At that point, she has received something of value in consideration for not informing a violation of law. Under 18 U.S.C. § 873, letting somebody pay restitution to repair a broken window instead of calling the police is bribery.
What if the woman called the family back and said that the window costs $200.00, but she is demanding $1,000.00 or she will call the police? This certainly fits the common sense view of what constitutes bribery, and is likely the only situation in which a prosecution would result under the facts alleged in the hypothetical.
In our experience, it is difficult to convince a prosecutor to file bribery charges because the complainant is also involved in some sort of wrongdoing.