Kidnapping is the crime of taking a person away against their will to another location or confining them against their will. All states have laws against kidnapping, and the federal government can get involved in certain circumstances.
The FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies investigate alleged kidnapping crimes that fall under their jurisdiction, and federal prosecutors typically prosecute cases aggressively. If convicted on federal kidnapping charges, you can face substantial prison time, fines, and other serious repercussions, and you need to understand how the government defines kidnapping as well as related offenses, so you are better prepared for what to expect.
You also need to reach out to an experienced federal criminal defense attorney who can evaluate your case, advise you of your rights and options, and help you develop the strongest defense strategy possible.
When Is Kidnapping a Federal Crime?
Although many kidnapping crimes are prosecuted by the state in which they occur, the crime falls under federal jurisdiction if the crime occurred across state lines or international boundaries or if it affected interstate or foreign commerce.
Federal law defines kidnapping as unlawfully seizing, confining, abducting, carrying away, or holding a person against their will to obtain ransom, reward, or for any other purpose, except in cases of a parent and a minor child (18 U.S.C. § 1201). You can face federal charges if any of the following apply to your case:
- You willfully transported the person across state or country lines, whether or not they were alive at the time.
- You used any means of interstate or foreign commerce or the mail service to commit the crime.
- You committed the offense within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the U.S., including U.S. ships and other vessels.
- You committed the crime using an aircraft within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the U.S.
- You kidnapped a foreign official, official guest, or internationally protected person.
- You kidnapped an officer or employee of the U.S. government while they were performing their official duties.
It is also a federal crime to kidnap someone and not release them within 24 hours after the abduction. Additionally, you can face charges for conspiracy if you work with at least one other person to plan the crime and take overt action towards committing the offense.
Regarding kidnapping internationally protected persons, the federal government can claim jurisdiction over cases where you kidnap a representative, officer, employee, or agent of the United States, as well as if you are a national of the United States as defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act, or if authorities later find you inside U.S. borders.
Penalties for Federal Kidnapping
The federal statute allows courts discretion when assigning prison sentences and does not provide a minimum or maximum sentence terms, per se. However, you can face up to life in prison and even the death penalty depending on the nature of the crime and whether the victim was harmed or killed. With respect to kidnapping children who are not related to you, the government imposes a minimum prison sentence of 20 years.
The government also lists other offenses that it can prosecute along with kidnapping, and they are:
- Ransom money – You can face charges for receiving, possessing, or spending any ransom money from a kidnapping if you knew the proceeds came from the crime, whether you took part in the actual offense. You can receive up to 10 years in federal prison plus fines.
- Hostage-taking – You can face charges for hostage-taking if you kidnap someone or a group of people to force a government or some other third party to abstain or engage in certain acts. Prison sentences will depend on the nature and severity of the crime, but they can include life in prison or the death penalty.
- International parental kidnapping – If you take your child out of the U.S. with the intention of obstructing or avoiding a lawful exercise of parental rights, you can face federal charges. Penalties can be up to three years maximum in federal prison, along with fines.
Laws regarding international parental kidnapping can involve the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act or the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, as well as The Hague Convention.
However, the federal statute actually provides several “affirmative defenses” that preclude prosecution of international parental kidnapping. They include acting under the provisions of a valid court order that granted your legal custody or visitation rights, fleeing an incidence or pattern of domestic violence, or failing to return the child in a timely fashion due to circumstances beyond your control
For kidnapping in general, the government can also prosecute you for other crimes, such as hate crimes or carjacking, if the circumstances warrant it.
Defenses for Federal Kidnapping
Your defense strategies for kidnapping will depend heavily on the facts and circumstances of your case. The primary elements of the crime are that you intentionally seized, confined, or abducted someone against their will or unlawfully held someone for more than 24 hours.
However, if you can show the person gave consent and was not drugged or otherwise rendered incapable of understanding their situation or resisting the action, you should not face charges for kidnapping.
For federal charges, you may be able to show that the government did not hold jurisdiction over the crime. While you may be prosecuted for state charges of kidnapping, you should not face federal charges.
Regardless, you want to assess all your defense options and build the strongest case possible, but you will need help from an attorney with experience defending against federal charges.
Contact an Experienced Federal Defense Attorney
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has many years of experience defending clients against federal kidnapping and other federal crimes in the New Jersey district court. He will review your case, advise you of your options, and help you create an effective defense against the charges. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or fill out our contact form to request a confidential consultation.