Criminal Law - Federal

Federal Kidnapping

Each state has its own kidnapping laws. However, your kidnapping case may be charged as a federal crime of kidnapping if you cross state lines. If you kidnap someone for money, you can also face federal charges related to ransom money.

The federal government takes kidnapping charges seriously, and penalties can include the possibility of life in prison. If you are facing criminal charges for kidnapping or child abduction, talk to a federal criminal defense attorney to understand your legal rights.

When Is Kidnapping a Federal Crime?

After the kidnapping of the son of famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, Congress passed the Federal Kidnapping Act in 1932, also known as the “Little Lindbergh Law,” making kidnapping across state lines a federal crime.

The federal kidnapping statute allows federal law enforcement like the FBI and U.S. Marshals to work together across state lines to investigate kidnapping cases.

Kidnapping falls under federal jurisdiction if you restrain, carry away, or abduct someone against their will and transport them to a new location in another state. It can also be a federal crime if the person kidnapped is a government or foreign official. Even if you didn’t cross state lines, it could be a federal offense if you use items of interstate commerce, like credit cards, the mail, or the internet to commit the crime.

Federal law also states that if you illegally take or confine someone and don’t release them for at least 24 hours, they are considered kidnapped. 

If your case is under federal jurisdiction, you can face even harsher criminal penalties than under state kidnapping laws.

Kidnapping can be a state crime if:

  • The victim stays within the state
  • The victim is not a government officer or foreign official
  • You don’t use any items of interstate commerce like the mail or the internet to commit the crime

State penalties for this crime are usually less severe than if you are charged in federal court, but there are still serious charges.

International Parental Kidnapping

If a parent takes their minor child under 16 years of age out of the United States to another country with the intent to get in the way of another parent’s physical child custody order and visitation rights, they can be charged with international parental kidnapping. This crime carries a penalty of a fine and up to three years in prison.

These charges do not apply if you have a valid custody court order or child custody agreement from the court allowing you to take the child out of the country as part of their visitation schedule.

Is Kidnapping the Same as False Imprisonment?

The difference between kidnapping and false imprisonment is that kidnapping usually involves some sort of movement and carrying away of the victim against their will. False imprisonment usually means preventing someone from leaving an area.

For example, if you lock someone in an office against their will and don’t let them leave, you could face charges for false imprisonment. However, if you move the person against their will by car to a hotel, you could then face a charge of kidnapping under state law. If you moved the same person against their will to another state, you could then face federal kidnapping charges.

Other federal offenses that can be charged that are related to kidnapping include, attempted kidnapping, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, federal kidnapping for ransom money, and taking a hostage.

If you are charged with a federal crime for hostage-taking you can face up to life in prison or even the death penalty if anyone is killed as part of this crime.

What Penalties Can I Face for Federal Kidnapping?

A federal kidnapping conviction is generally punished by up to 20 years in prison. However, if the victim dies as a result of the kidnapping, the penalties can include life imprisonment or even the death penalty.

If you are convicted of accepting, getting rid of, or transmitting ransom funds when you know the money was used for kidnapping, you can face up to 10 years in prison.

Another related charge can include conspiracy to kidnap. A conspiracy is making an agreement with two or more people to kidnap a person. Conspiracy to kidnap has the same federal penalties as if you had acted alone. Penalties for this crime can increase if the victim was killed as part of the crime and can include life imprisonment or the death penalty.

If you are convicted for attempting but failing to kidnap someone and you meet the other conditions of the federal kidnapping law, you can be punished less than for a completed kidnapping crime.

What Are Defenses to Federal Kidnapping Charges?

You should consult with a criminal defense attorney who understands federal kidnapping to help you understand your rights in the federal court system. One possible defense is showing that the person willingly consented to go with you. Another potential defense is arguing that the case shouldn’t be in federal court because it didn’t involve going across state lines, which may help lower some of the penalties.

Additionally, if you are a parent charged with parental international kidnapping, you may be able to show that you had a valid custody agreement or that it was an emergency and you were trying to get your child away from a dangerous partner.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you navigate all stages of the criminal process. A case consultation with a criminal defense attorney can help you understand the federal sentencing process and your legal defense strategies.

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