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Kidnapping is a serious crime and is prosecuted at both the federal and state level. The federal government aggressively prosecutes kidnapping cases, and if you or a loved one is charged with this serious crime and can include kidnappings by non-custodial members.

The Federal Kidnapping Statute

According to the U.S. Code (Title 18, Section 1201) kidnapping takes place when a victim under the age of 18 is abducted by an individual who is not a parent, grandparent, sibling, aunt or uncle and transported across state lines. An additional portion of the USC makes it clear that if the abduction lasts longer than 24 hours, the offense is immediately presumed to involve interstate travel or commerce, increasing the likelihood of federal prosecution.

The statute also makes it clear that certain foreign actors may be protected under the USC for the purposes of this particular offense, and also covers offenses that take place within special maritime, airspace and other territorial jurisdictions.

Is Kidnapping a Federal Crime?

While kidnapping is generally prosecuted at the state level, it is not unheard of for kidnapping charges to be pursued in federal court and charged as a federal offense.

Protections afforded to immediate (and some extended) family members facing federal charges of kidnapping are null and void if a parent in question has had their parental rights terminated by final court order.

The punishment for kidnapping under federal law is severe. If you are convicted of kidnapping, federal courts can sentence you to 20 years of imprisonment, or more if the crime involved significant aggravating factors.

When Does Kidnapping Become a Federal Crime?

If the abductee is under the age of 18 (and the kidnapper is also), the kidnapping involves a stranger or a parent whose parental rights have been revoked, and if the offense involves the crossing of state lines, the USC allows federal prosecutors to consider kidnapping charges. Likewise, if the offender does not release the victim within 24 hours, there is a presumptive case that the kidnapping can be considered a federal crime as well.

What Is the Federal Statute of Limitations for Kidnapping?

There is no federal statute of limitations concerning the crime of kidnapping at the federal level, meaning the charges can be pursued at any time.

What Is Parental Kidnapping?

A parental kidnapping or parental abduction takes place when one parent of a child leaves the state with the child in tow, unwittingly or unwillingly, without consent from the other parent. This situation can be very complex and nuanced, particularly if a custody agreement has not been established, and is more common than one might suppose.

In cases where there is a legally established custody agreement in place between the two parents, the abductee, likely being in violation of this agreement, can be charged not only with kidnapping but with contempt for the court-ordered custody agreement as well.

In situations where accusations of parental kidnapping are being sought but no custody agreement exists, it could be more complicated. The difference between a disagreement between parents — perhaps an out-of-state fishing trip, for example, that one party did not agree with — and parental kidnapping as a crime can be difficult to prove in a court of law without a custody order in place.

Kidnapping As a State Crime

State prosecutors and federal prosecutors can charge you independently of each other, and state courts typically take a dim view of kidnapping convictions as well.

In California, for example, kidnapping is considered a serious felony. If you are convicted of kidnapping in California courts, you could face up to eight years imprisonment, as well as a strike on their record in accordance with the state’s “three strikes” system.

Texas differentiates between charges of kidnapping and aggravated kidnapping at the state level. Those found guilty of kidnapping could be charged with a third-degree felony and face a penalty between two and 10 years imprisonment in addition to a fine of up to $10,000. However, if you are convicted of aggravated kidnapping which is a first or second-degree felony, you could face from five years to life in prison as well as up to $10,000 in fines.

Defenses for a Federal Kidnapping Charge

Several defenses exist in law that may fit the circumstances of the case against you. They are:

  • The government cannot prove at least one of the elements of kidnapping.
  • The kidnapping victim consented to be with you.
  • You reasonably believed that the alleged victim gave you consent.
  • The kidnapping charge is used as an aggravating factor for another charge, constituting double jeopardy.
  • You did not know you were doing wrong at the time of the kidnapping.

How a Federal Kidnapping Attorney Can Help

A criminal defense attorney can explain the elements of kidnapping, the legal process and review the investigative process searching for procedural violations that can prevent illegally obtain evidence from being used.

In cases that are strong, your attorney as your legal representative can negotiate a plea bargain to reduce prison time and fines. Your attorney also can conduct a defense investigation and present mitigating evidence that may persuade a jury or judge.

In cases of a parent kidnapping his or her child, an attorney may be able to present evidence that your action was in the best interest of the child.

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