Kidnapping began as a crime which involved forcibly abducting someone
and carrying him or her to a different country. Today, kidnapping
occurs when someone forcibly abducts or confines another person against
his or her will. While all states criminalize kidnapping, state laws on
kidnapping differ in how they define the crime, as well as in how the
crime is punished.
- Taking, confinement, or restraint.
A kidnapping occurs when someone intentionally takes, abducts,
restrains, or confines someone else. In some states an offender must
confine the victim with the intention to inflict bodily harm, use the
person as a shield, use the person as a means of escape, hold the person
for ransom, hold the person as an involuntary servant, or hold the
person to disrupt government or political activities. In other states,
confinement is the key element, and any intentional confinement, taking,
or restraint is a kidnapping. However, even in states that require the
intent to commit further crimes, it isn't necessary that those crimes to
actually take place. It's enough for the accused to commit the unlawful
taking with the specified intent, even if the kidnapper's goals are
- Movement of the victim.
Some states require that the kidnapping victim must be moved for a
substantial distance, though the actual distance required can be very
minimal. For example, moving a victim from one house to another house
across the street or from a car into a nearby structure is enough,
though movement from one room of a house to another may not be. Other
states do not require movement of the victim to charge an offender with
- Kidnapping degrees.
Some state laws separate kidnapping into offenses of different degrees
or levels of severity. For example, a charge of first-degree kidnapping,
sometimes known as aggravated kidnapping, usually requires that the
accused kidnapper either physically harm, sexually assault, or expose
the victim to serious risk of harm during the course of the kidnapping. A
second-degree kidnapping does not involve sexual or violent assault, or
exposing the victim to harm.
- Force and threats.
In some states it isn't necessary for a person to use force to commit a
kidnapping, while other states require that some force must be used
before a confinement can be considered a kidnapping. Using the threat of
violence or other threats that might instill fear is also considered a
use of force.
- Consent. A
kidnapping cannot occur if the victim consents to the confinement. If a
person, such as a child or a person with cognitive disabilities, is
unable to grant legal consent, a kidnapping can occur if the person is
taken without the consent of the parent or legal guardian.
- Federal kidnapping. Though
the majority of kidnapping crimes are prosecuted as state offenses, the
federal government can also prosecute someone for kidnapping if the
kidnapping crosses state lines. Federal prosecutors can file kidnapping
charges independent of state charges, meaning you can be charged with
both federal and state crimes.
Kidnapping Laws & Penalties
is a very serious charge that brings significant penalties. All states
categorize kidnapping as a felony offense, though states have different
degrees of felonies that have different sentences associated with them.
More significant penalties are typically given in cases where the victim
is a child, or where the victim was injured, sexually assaulted, or
exposed to danger.
- Prison. Kidnapping
convictions can result in lengthy prison sentences, including life
sentences in some situations and states. Sentences of 20 years or more
are common for first degree or aggravated kidnapping, while minimum
sentences of five years or more are common for second degree kidnapping.
Fines for kidnapping offenses are substantial and are imposed in
addition to prison sentences. Aggravated kidnapping convictions can
result in fines of $50,000 or more, while simple kidnapping can result
in fines of $10,000 or more.
- Probation. A
court may also sentence a person convicted of kidnapping to a probation
term. Probation sentences for kidnapping convictions typically last
several years, and sometimes as much as 10 years. A person on probation
must comply with the court's conditions or face serving the original
prison sentence, pay additional fines, or face other criminal penalties.
Common probation conditions include meeting regularly with a probation
officer, asking the officer or court's permission before moving or
traveling out of state, not committing any more crimes, and not
associating with known criminals.
Contacting an Attorney
is one of the most serious criminal offenses a person can be charged
with. Even if you are investigated or suspected of kidnapping and never
charged, you can suffer a social stigma that can last with you for a
lifetime. Being convicted of kidnapping will likely bring significant
criminal penalties, and will likely cripple your future chances at
employment. If you are facing a kidnapping charge you need to speak to
an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area right away. Only
an experienced local defense lawyer can advise you on how to proceed in
any kidnapping case. You need a lawyer who is not only knowledgeable
about the kidnapping laws in your area, but also one who knows how the
local courts operate and is familiar to with local prosecutors and