Kidnapping Laws and Statutes: Charges, Sentences and Defenses

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 What is Kidnapping?

The offense of kidnapping is a felony under both federal and state law. The exact kidnapping definition under kidnapping law varies from state to state. However, kidnapping is generally defined as:

  • The carrying away, movement, or transportation; or
  • Confinement of an individual;
  • Against their consent,
  • By force and/or deception.

Kidnapping may also be defined as:

  • The seizure and detention of an individual;
  • Against their consent,
  • With intent to:
    • Carry the individual away at a later time;
    • Hold the individual for ransom;
    • Use the individual as a human shield;
    • Inflict physical or emotional injury upon the individual; or
    • Use the individual to facilitate the commission of a felony.

The first previously defined kidnapping is referred to as a general intent crime. In other words, the crime is committed simply by the defendant intending to confine or move the individual and/or by the defendant committing the act of confining and/or moving the victim.

The second previously defined kidnapping is referred to as a specific intent crime. In this type of crime, a defendant has a specific purpose or intent to commit a crime, other than kidnapping, that is illegal on its own.

A specific intent kidnapping is a general kidnapping with the specific intent to do one of the following:

  • Carry the individual away;
  • Hold the individual for ransom;
  • Use the individual as a shield;
  • Use the individual to commit a felony; and/or
  • To inflict injury upon the individual.

State laws vary as to what elements must be proven in kidnapping cases. In some states, even a slight movement satisfies the transportation requirement of the kidnapping offense. In other states, the movement must be more than slight to satisfy the requirement.

In general, if the unlawful seizure, confinement, and/or moving of the victim is for the specific purpose of ransom and/or extortion, the crime is classified as aggravated kidnapping. Other specific intent kidnappings are also considered to be aggravated kidnappings, depending on the state. In most cases, aggravated kidnapping carries a greater penalty than general kidnapping.

Kidnapping may be committed by a stranger or someone known to the victim. It can also occur when a family member or parent violates a custody order and kidnaps a child without the other parents consent, known as a parental kidnapping.

Is Kidnapping a Felony or Misdemeanor?

Kidnapping is categorized as a felony in all states. However, different states may have different levels of felony classification. It is also important to note that a felony may be considered a federal offense, as discussed below.

If a defendant is convicted of a felony, they may face prison time, fines, and penalties. A defendant may be required to pay restitution to the victim for losses caused by the defendant’s actions.

In many jurisdictions, individuals who are convicted of felonies no longer have the right to vote. Many states also have laws that prohibit felons from engaging in activities that are otherwise lawful. For example, a felony conviction may result in the termination of a professional license. A felony conviction also results in restrictions on firearm ownership.

What is the Difference Between Kidnapping and False Imprisonment?

Although false imprisonment and kidnapping may be confused for one another, they are different offenses. These offenses have significant differences.

The offense of false imprisonment is committed when an individual forcibly restrains another individual against their will with the risk of being seriously injured and/or killed. Any individual who intentionally restricts another individual from any type of movement and/or freedom without their consent may be liable for false imprisonment.

False imprisonment laws vary by state. An individual may be guilty of false imprisonment if they:

  • Say words or commit acts with the intent to confine the victim;
  • The defendant actually confines the victim for some time;
  • The victim was aware of the confinement; and
  • The confinement and/or detention was unlawful and willful.

The most important element is the victim is aware of the confinement. In some jurisdictions, the victim must not have a reasonable means of escape in order for false imprisonment to occur. It is also important to note that an act of omission may form the basis of a false imprisonment, such as intentionally failing to unlock a door if an individual is trapped inside.

False imprisonment occurs when an individual is detained and prevented from leaving. Kidnapping, on the other hand may be committed solely by intending to move and/or confine an individual, and the confining and/or moving of the individual without their consent.

False imprisonment is both a crime and a tort, or civil offense. Kidnapping, however, does not have a civil equivalent. In other words, there is no tort of civil kidnapping.

When is Kidnapping Considered to be a Federal Offense?

If a victim is moved across state lines during a kidnapping, it is a federal offense under federal kidnapping laws. Under the Lindbergh Law, or Federal Kidnapping Act, a kidnapping that involves the movement of a victim across state lines may be punishable by a prison term of up to 20 years.

The Federal Kidnapping Act provides for even harsher penalties if the victim is under the age of 18 and the kidnapper is over the age of 18 and is not a close family member and/or legal custodian. In these cases, the kidnapping offense is punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison.

What are the State Law Penalties for Kidnapping?

The punishment for kidnapping under state law depends on the particular jurisdiction as well as the severity of the offense. In general, the minimum sentence for kidnapping that is non-aggravated is three years in prison. In some jurisdictions, the minimum is five years.

Aggravated kidnapping is punishable by anywhere from 10, 20, or more years in prison, depending on the jurisdictions. If a victim dies while kidnapped or prior to being returned to safety, the defendant may be charged with aggravated kidnapping.

In addition to time in prison, a defendant convicted of kidnapping may face monetary fines. These typically range from $5,000 or more. If the victim was used during the commission of a felony from which the defendant received a monetary gain, the defendant may be fined an amount equal to that monetary gain or a multiple thereof.

Are there any Defenses to the Charge of Kidnapping?

Yes, there are defenses available to the charge of kidnapping. These defenses include:

  • The individual consented to be transported by the defendant;
  • The individual consented to being confined by the defendant;
  • The defendant did not use force; and/or
  • The defendant did not intend to use force.

It is important to note that some individuals, including those determined not to be of sound mind, may lack the mental capacity to provide consent. In those cases, the consent defense cannot be successfully asserted with respect to those individuals.

Do I Need the Help of a Lawyer if I am Facing Charges for Kidnapping?

Yes, if you are facing charges for kidnapping, it is extremely important to consult with an experienced criminal lawyer. A criminal lawyer can review your case, determine if any defenses are available to you, and represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary. The consequences of a kidnapping conviction may be severe and affect you for the rest of your life.

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