Saving Toby: Extortion, Blackmail, and the Right to Destroy
Stephen E. Sachs
Duke University School of Law
Yale Law & Policy Review, Vol. 24, No. 1, p. 251, 2006
On the website SaveToby.com, one may find many endearing pictures of Toby, the cutest little bunny on the planet. Unfortunately, on June 30, 2005, the lovable Toby was scheduled to be butchered and eaten - unless the website's readers sent $50,000 to save his life.
Though Toby's owner has since granted him a temporary reprieve - until Nov. 6, 2006 - the threat raises a fascinating issue of law. Extortion statutes prohibiting threats to destroy property generally do not prohibit threats to destroy one's own property. The law thus provides insufficient protection to a variety of resources on which others place value, including historic buildings, treasured paintings, and adorable bunny rabbits.
This Comment proposes that legislatures protect Toby under a new criminal offense of extortionate destruction. It presents the moral case for the offense by analogy to blackmail. Although destruction of property, like telling others' secrets, is normally lawful, both can be rendered wrongful by the unjustified use of a coercive threat. Such a threat specifically aims at causing unpleasantness to the offeree; the owner commits to killing Toby only because he hopes someone else will pay him not to. Such threats cannot be defended by the economic or expressive values inherent in the traditional right to destroy, and shed light on the ongoing debate over the nature and wrongness of blackmail. The Comment concludes by suggesting model statutory language designed to safeguard property owners' legitimate interests, while appropriately protecting future artworks, antiquities, and bunny rabbits from Toby's sad fate.
(This piece has been awarded Yale's Jewell Prize for the best second-year student contribution to a Law School journal other than the Yale Law Journal.)
Number of Pages in PDF File: 12
Keywords: extortion, blackmail, right to destroy, property, threats, toby, rabbit
JEL Classification: K10, K11, K14, K42
Date posted: January 23, 2006