Kidnapping began as a crime that 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. Kidnapping can be a state or federal crime.
How Is Kidnapping Defined?
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 never achieved.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- 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.
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 and Penalties
Kidnapping 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. 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.
In many states, no time limit exists for charging kidnapping crimes. This time limit is referred to as the criminal statute of limitations. While a prosecutor might only have a few years to bring charges in other types of criminal cases, typically murder and kidnapping have either no time limit or very lengthy time limits for charging.
Contacting an Attorney
Kidnapping 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 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 with local prosecutors and judges.