Kidnapping is a felony under both state and federal law. While the precise state law definition of the crime of kidnapping differs from state to state, kidnapping can be generally defined as one of the following acts:

  • The carrying away (i.e., movement or transportation) or confinement of a person, against that person’s consent, by force or deception; or
  • The seizure and detention of a person, against that person’s consent, with an intent to:
    • Carry the person away at a later time; 
    • Hold the person for ransom; 
    • Use the person as a human shield; 
    • Inflict physical or emotional injury on the person; or
    • Use the person to facilitate the commission of a felony

The first kind of kidnapping noted above is often referred to as a general intent crime. That is, the crime is considered to be committed simply by the defendant’s intending to confine or move the victim, and by then committing the act of confining or moving the victim. 

The second kind of kidnapping noted above is known as a specific intent crime. A specific intent crime is a crime, where one or more of the elements requires the defendant has a specific purpose or intent to do something (other than to kidnap) that is illegal on its own. 

The offense of general kidnapping, combined with the specific intent to carry the person away, hold the person for ransom, use the person as a shield, use the person to commit a felony, or to inflict injury, results in a kidnapping that is a specific intent kidnapping.

State laws differ as to what exactly must be proven under certain elements. Under some state laws, for example, even a slight movement suffices to establish the “transportation” requirement of a kidnapping offense. In other states, the movement must be more than slight. 

If the unlawful seizure, confinement, or moving of the victim is undertaken for the specific purpose of ransom or extortion, then the crime is generally classified as aggravated kidnapping. Certain other “specific intent” kidnappings are also considered to be aggravated, depending on the jurisdiction. Generally, “aggravated” kidnapping carries a greater penalty than general kidnapping.

Under state law, kidnapping can be committed by a family member (including when a parent violates a custody order and then kidnaps the child without the other parent’s consent — a crime known as parental kidnapping) or by a stranger.

What is the Difference Between Kidnapping and False Imprisonment?

The acts of kidnapping and false imprisonment are frequently confused or mistaken for each other.  These acts have two significant differences:

  • False imprisonment is committed when a person is detained and prevented from leaving. In comparison, the act of kidnapping can be committed simply by intending to move or confine a person, and then confining or moving the person without their consent; and 
  • False imprisonment is both a tort (civil offense) and a crime, while the kidnapping does not have an equivalent civil offense (there is no tort of “civil kidnapping”).

When is Kidnapping Considered to be a Federal Offense?

If a kidnapping results the victim moving across state lines, then the kidnapping is a federal offense. Under the Federal Kidnapping Act (commonly referred to as the “Lindbergh Law”), a kidnapping involving the movement of the victim across state lines is punishable by a prison term of up to 20 years. 

The Federal Kidnapping Act provides even more severe penalties if the victim is under the age of 18, and the kidnapper is over that age and not a close family member or legal custodian. Under such facts, the kidnapping is punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years.

What are the State Law Penalties for Kidnapping?

State law penalties for kidnapping depend upon the particular jurisdiction as well as the severity of the offense. Generally, non-aggravated kidnapping is punishable by a prison term of at least three years (in some jurisdictions, the number is at least five). Aggravated kidnapping is punishable by sentences of anywhere from 10 years, to 20 or more years, depending on the jurisdiction. 

If the victim dies while kidnapped, or before the victim is returned to safety, the defendant can be charged with aggravated kidnapping.

Kidnapping can also result in monetary fines. Fines of $5,000 or more are typical. If the victim was used in the commission of a felony from which defendant received monetary gain, defendant may be fined in the amount (or a multiple of the amount) of the monetary gain.

Are there any Defenses to the Charge of Kidnapping?

There may be several defenses to the charge of kidnapping. These include:

  • The victim consented to being transported or confined by the defendant; 
    • Certain individuals (e.g., those determined not to be of sound mind) may lack the mental capacity to consent. Therefore, the defense of consent cannot successfully asserted as respects these individuals; and
  • Lack of force or intent to use force.

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

If you have been arrested for the crime of kidnapping, you should consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer. The consequences of a conviction can be severe; this lawyer can advise you as to your rights, and defend you against kidnapping charges. 

The lawyer can also represent you in bail proceedings, hearings (including pretrial hearings and plea hearings), and at trial.