Criminal Law


Kidnapping is a serious offense that is punishable under both state and federal laws. You will be charged with kidnapping if you took a person against their will or restrict them to a confined space.

What Are the Elements of a Kidnapping Charge?

State laws may differ on how they define the crime of kidnapping. Generally, kidnapping has the following elements:

  • Taking or confining a person: This could be transporting someone to another place or confining them by restricting their freedom of movement.
  • Against the person's will: It is not kidnapping if the person who you are holding consents to the confinement.
  • Intent: Some states require the kidnapper have an unlawful motive to commit the crime, such as ransom and extortion.
  • Using or threatening to use force: Some states require force or a threat of the use of force before confinement to consider the offense a kidnapping.

Federal Kidnapping Laws

Kidnapping is usually prosecuted at the state level. There are, however, certain situations where you might face federal charges. This typically happens when the kidnapping crosses state lines. The Federal Kidnapping Act makes kidnapping a serious felony that carries with it a 20-year or more prison sentence for a conviction.

Kidnapping by Parents

Federal kidnapping laws also include instances where a parent abducts a child across state lines. This usually happens during a custody dispute or a divorce. If convicted, you could face up to three years in prison for violating this provision.

At the state level, parental abduction can also lead to serious charges. In Illinois, for instance, parental kidnapping is a class 4 felony that can result in a prison sentence of up to three years.

Possible defenses of a kidnapping charge include proving lawful custody of the child and fleeing domestic violence to keep the victim and the child safe.

Types of Kidnapping Charges

Kidnapping charges may vary depending on your state's laws, your criminal history, and the circumstances of the particular case. In general, how they are classified depends on the severity of harm to the victim.

While all kidnapping charges are serious, aggravated kidnapping is far more serious since it carries with it a potential life sentence. Usually, a person can be charged with aggravated kidnapping if:

  • The victim suffers serious harm or death
  • The victim is a child
  • The kidnapping involves a demand for ransom

Kidnapping vs. False Imprisonment

Both kidnapping and false imprisonment involve restraining a person without their consent. However, there are distinct differences between the two. False imprisonment occurs when someone is kept in one place against their will, whereas kidnapping involves the act of moving someone to a new area without their consent.

Although both offenses result in criminal charges, the penalty for false imprisonment is typically less severe, ranging from one to three years in prison.

Penalties for a Kidnapping Conviction

Kidnapping is a very serious offense with severe consequences. Although states may have different degrees of punishment, all states categorize kidnapping as a felony. The penalties may be higher in certain situations, including if the victim was:

  • A child
  • Exposed to danger
  • Sexually assaulted

Generally, penalties for kidnapping convictions can include the following:


If you are convicted of kidnapping, you will likely serve a lengthy prison sentence. If there are aggravating factors like physically harming the victim, the penalties will be more severe. The specific sentences will also vary depending on your state. For instance, in California, you could face eight years in prison if you are convicted of kidnapping. In Minnesota, you could serve up to 20 years for a similar crime.


In addition to the prison sentence, the court can also impose a substantial fine for a kidnapping offense. The fine can range from $10,000 to $50,000 depending on the state and the nature of the crime.


A court may also sentence you to probation if you are convicted of kidnapping. You need to strictly adhere to the terms of the probation, or you may face a judge restoring your original sentence, which could mean going to jail.

Defending Against Kidnapping Charges

You may have a number of defenses to kidnapping charges. If you are facing kidnapping charges, you should talk to a criminal defense attorney who can advocate for you. A defense lawyer can offer you legal advice and represent you in court.

Some of the defenses your attorney can assert include:

  • Consent: You can use this defense if you can show that the victim consented to being taken.
  • Mistake: Some states allow you to assert the defense of a mistake if you can show you believed the victim consented or believed that you were acting under the authority of law. This could be a viable defense in a parental kidnapping case, if you believed you had legal custody and the authority to take your child somewhere else.
  • Insanity or other mental disorder: An acquittal by reason of insanity could still mean being confined to a mental health treatment facility.

You should consult with a criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible if you are accused of kidnapping. The choices you make in your defense will have long-lasting affects, and you should think through these decisions with an attorney's guidance before making any.