Is Kidnapping a State or Federal Crime?

Generally, kidnapping involves moving a person from one location to another or confining them without their consent. In situations where the transportation of an individual remains in one state, kidnapping is a state crime. However, it can become a federal crime when certain elements are present – more specifically, when the offense, in some way, crosses state lines or country borders. Whether kidnapping falls under state or federal jurisdiction, the penalties are severe, though distinct. Anyone charged with the crime should retain legal representation right away.

At Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, our Los Angeles lawyers are experienced at defending individuals involved in state or federal criminal matters. If you need legal counsel, please contact us at (800) 462-7160 today.

How Is Kidnapping Defined in California?

California’s simple kidnapping law is Penal Code § 207(a). It defines the offense as using force or fear to take, hold, or detain someone against their will and moving them to another country, state, county, or location within the same county. The movement must be more than a trivial distance. It must be substantial, which may be determined by factors such as the risk of physical or psychological harm to the alleged victim or the opportunity it gave the alleged actor to commit other offenses.

A major element of kidnapping is consent. Moving a person a substantial distance is unlawful when that individual does not permit the movement.

The act may be nonconsensual if the person:

  • Did not freely and voluntarily agree to be moved,
  • Was not aware they were being moved, or
  • Did not have the maturity or understanding to refuse to be moved.

California has several other laws concerning kidnapping that are also characterized by the nonconsensual movement of a person. However, they are distinguished by the conduct involved, the type of victim, or the alleged actor’s intent.

These laws include kidnapping:

  • For child molestation
  • A child or person incapable of consenting
  • For ransom, reward, extortion, or some other benefit
  • For robbery, rape, or other sex crimes
  • During a carjacking

Although California has statutes prohibiting kidnapping, it’s not just a state crime. It can also be a federal offense. Several factors determine whether the federal government has jurisdiction.

When Is Kidnapping a Federal Crime?

The federal kidnapping statute (18 U.S.C. § 1201) prohibits people from seizing, confining, or carrying away a person. In addition, the alleged actor must have done so for a ransom, reward, or another type of benefit.

So far, the federal kidnapping law is similar to California’s. So what makes it different?

For the federal government to have jurisdiction, the offense must have:

  • Crossed state lines or federal borders. This can occur in several ways:
    • The alleged actor traveled to commit the offense
    • The alleged actor moved the victim from one place to another
    • The alleged actor used any means that affected interstate or foreign commerce to commit or further the offense, such as using the mail, a phone, or the internet;
  • Occurred in special aircraft or maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.;
  • Involved the kidnapping of a foreign official, an internationally protected person, or an official guest; or
  • Involved the kidnapping of an officer or employee of the U.S. when the individual was performing their official duties.

In some cases, even if an offense does not leave a state or the country, federal agents can still investigate it. This is when the person kidnapped was a child 12 years of age or younger. The FBI will monitor the situation and provide assistance.

Are the Penalties Similar for State and Federal Convictions?

California and the federal government both harshly penalize persons found guilty of kidnapping. However, the punishments are not the same.

In California, simple kidnapping carries 3, 5, or 8 years of imprisonment. If the offense involved a person under 14 years of age, the prison term increases to 5, 8, or 11 years.

With the federal government, kidnapping can be penalized for any number of years to life.

Consult with an Attorney Today

A criminal defense attorney can help fight your kidnapping charge. By listening to your side of the story and analyzing the facts, they can identify defenses and legal options for pursuing a favorable outcome in your case.

To speak with one of our Los Angeles lawyers at Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, please call (800) 462-7160 or submit an online contact form today.