The term kidnapping may conjure up images of children grabbed off the street, or masked assailants snatching up victims, and holding them for millions in ransom money. These are some of the images we get from watching TV shows and movies. However, the crime of kidnapping can be charged in a variety of situations, and a person who did not think they were doing anything wrong could end up facing serious charges with the possibility of many years in prison.
Penalties for Kidnapping
In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, there are a number of criminal statutes that address kidnapping in different forms, with some situations resulting in enhanced criminal penalties. This includes the age of the victim, whether a dangerous weapon or firearm was involved, who the perpetrator is, and whether drugs were used.
Under basic kidnapping charges, it is unlawful for anyone, without authority, to forcibly or secretly confine or imprison a person against their will. Even without actual physical force, the threat of force, or by persuading someone to go somewhere by deception may be enough to be considered kidnapping. The penalties for kidnapping include state imprisonment for not more than 10 years.
Prosecuting a Kidnapping Conviction
In order for a prosecutor to convict a person for kidnapping, they have to prove that an individual, without legal authority:
- forcibly or secretly imprisons another person against their will, or
- forcibly sends another person out of state; or
- forcibly seizes and confines another person with the intent to to imprison them against their will.
Parental kidnapping is one of the most common kidnapping situations, often related to disputed child custody or divorce problems. More information about parental kidnapping and child abduction, can be found here.
Stopping Someone From Leaving
In some cases, just attempting to keep someone from leaving a place can be considered kidnapping. For example, a couple may be at someone's house, having an argument. If one person wants to leave, but the other person wants them to stay and blocks the door or holds them to stay longer, this can be considered kidnapping because someone is being confined against their will.
Use of Force
Force does not necessarily have to mean physically grabbing or holding someone. Kidnapping can occur through threat of force or coercion, including threat to do harm if the person leaves.
Kidnapping for Money
Kidnapping for money or other things of value can be common in some foreign countries with high crime rates. Although less common in the U.S., when a person is kidnapped with the intent to extort money or other valuable thing, the penalties are greatly increased, with the possibility of a sentence of life in prison.
Kidnapping With Use of a Firearm or Dangerous Weapon
If someone kidnaps another person while armed with a firearm, rifle, shotgun, machine gun or assault weapon, the penalties are also increased. Even if the gun is never used, there is a mandatory minimum sentence sentence of 10 years. If armed kidnapping involves the intent to extort money, the penalties can include a life sentence, with a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Sexual Assault or Serious Injury
Where the kidnapper causes serious bodily injury with a dangerous weapon, or if they sexually assault their prisoner, then the charge carries a minimum term of 25 years in prison. A "dangerous weapon" could be a knife, a bat, or any object constructed or used as to be likely to produce death or great bodily harm.
Drugging a Person For Kidnapping
If someone kidnaps another person while armed with a firearm, rifle, shotgun, machine gun or assault weapon, the penalties are also increased. Even if the gun is never used, there is a mandatory minimum sentence sentence of 10 years. If armed kidnapping involves the intent to extort money, the penalties can include a life sentence, with a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison. If the kidnapper has a dangerous weapon and inflicts serious bodily injury, or if they sexually assault the other person, the punishment carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years.
Kidnapping Criminal Trial Location
A kidnapping charge may be tried in the county where the kidnapping occurred, or if the victim was moved, the trial can also be held in any county where the person seized was confined, held, carried or brought.
Federal Kidnapping Charges
The Federal Kidnapping Act was enacted after the highly publicized historic Lindbergh baby kidnapping case. It was intended to make it easier for federal law enforcement intervention because local officers could not effectively work across state lines when investigating a kidnapping case.
Federal jurisdiction over kidnapping cases generally involve those where the victim is transported across state lines, or in interstate or foreign commerce. Under federal law, the crime of kidnapping may be punished for any term of years, or for life in prison, or by the death penalty. Attempted kidnapping is punishable by up to 20 years. Where the victim is a child under the age of 18, and the kidnapper is not a relative, the penalty carries a minimum of 20 years in prison.
If the victim is not released within 24 hours after being unlawfully seized, confined, decoyed, inveigled, abducted or carried away, it creates a rebuttable presumption that the person has been transported in interstate commerce. This would give federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) jurisdiction to investigate the kidnapping case.
Defenses to Kidnapping Charges
An experienced criminal defense attorney can call the prosecutors claims into question. Defenses could include: the defendant had the lawful authority to hold the person or prevent them from leaving a location; there was no intent to hide the person away; or that the person consented to going or staying with the defendant.
Your Boston-area criminal defense lawyer will be able to do an in-depth investigation into your case and develop a top legal strategy to defend you against your charges, and keep you out of jail. There may be many defenses available, depending on the facts of your case. Consent can be a defense to a charge of kidnapping, if the person consented to go with the defendant. If you have been charged with kidnapping or aggravated kidnapping, you have rights and you have defenses, and should not have to plead guilty just because you were arrested.