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Federal Criminal Offense of Kidnapping – 18 U.S.C. § 1201

Most kidnapping charges are prosecuted under state law, but there are situations where kidnapping incidents could be charged as a federal offense. Anyone convicted of 18 U.S.C. § 1201 federal kidnapping charges will be facing severe penalties. The exact penalties for the crime of kidnapping will depend on the severity of the alleged offense and other factors.

Kidnapping is described as a violent crime of taking away someone against their will, and normally involves holding them in false imprisonment or confining them against their will. It could involve forcing a person into a vehicle and taking them to another location, or even locking them up in room to prevent escape.

Federal Crime of Kidnapping - 18 U.S.C. § 1201

Retaining an experienced federal criminal lawyer early in the process could prove crucial to the outcome of your case. Seasoned federal lawyers will be able to closely examine the details of the charges and determine any valid defenses in your case.

As stated, in some cases, the federal government will get involved in prosecuting alleged kidnappers. This means a criminal investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or other federal law enforcement agencies in order to obtain evidence against you and to put together a case for a federal prosecutor to file charges.

Section 1201 of Title 18 of the United States Code codifies the extremely serious federal crime of kidnapping. As stated, while most cases are most often prosecuted under the laws of the 50 states, it can also be a federal crime in certain circumstances, carrying a potential life sentence or even the death penalty. See the Federal Kidnapping Act for more information.

This article discusses the specific factual scenarios which give rise to a potential prosecution under the United States Code for kidnapping. Our federal criminal defense attorneys are providing a review below.

Definition of 18 U.S.C. § 1201 Kidnapping

18 U.S.C. § 1201 provides the legal definition of the federal crime of kidnapping:

Anyone who unlawfully seizes, confines, decoys, kidnaps, abducts, or carries away and holds for ransom or reward or otherwise any person, except in the case of a minor by the parent thereof.

However, it is considered a criminal offense under federal law only in certain situations, including when the victim was transported across state lines in interstate or foreign commerce and not released for at least 24 hours.

Under 18 U.S. Code Chapter 55, there are some related federal statues to 18 U.S.C. § 1201, including:

18 U.S.C. § 1202 – Ransom money

18 U.S.C. § 1203 – Hostage taking

18 U.S.C. § 1204 – International parental kidnapping

Let's take a closer look below at 18 U.S.C. § 1201. The first threshold issue to understand about federal kidnapping is, as the name implies, that it must implicate the jurisdiction of the federal government.

18 U.S.C. § 1201 provides several situations in which the federal government may invoke its jurisdiction to bring a kidnapping prosecution in federal court. 18 U.S.C. §249 defines hate crime laws.

The first is when the defendant willfully transports the kidnap victim in interstate or foreign commerce. Interestingly, the victim does not need to be alive when their body crosses a state boundary to qualify as interstate.

The second situation is when the defendant, but not necessary the victim themselves either travels interstate in commission of the kidnapping or uses the so-called instrumentalities of interstate commerce to accomplish the the act.

The instrumentalities of interstate kidnapping include the mail, the banking system, and other methods and facilities which interact across state lines. Certain more specific scenarios also qualify as federal kidnapping.

For instance, a kidnapping which occurs in the special maritime or special aircraft jurisdictions of the United States can be prosecuted in federal court. This includes certain ships on the seas and aircraft.

Finally, a kidnapping in which the victim is a United States or foreign government official who is kidnapped while performing, or by virtue of, his or her status as a government official can be prosecuted under 18 U.S.C. § 1201 in federal court.

Kidnapping Involving Interstate Commerce

In determining whether a kidnapping involves interstate commerce, 18 U.S.C. § 1201 provides a rebuttable presumption that if the kidnapper fails to release the victim within 24 hours after taking them hostage, the act involves interstate commerce. Perhaps the kidnapping was related to the carjacking.

Again, this is a rebuttable presumption meaning that a defendant could later contest the United States' jurisdiction over the prosecution. However, the presumption allows federal law enforcement to immediately become involved in a the investigation and to arrest the suspect, if located.

Parental kidnapping 

There is a separate federal statute that specifically deals with international parental kidnapping. Under 18 U.S.C. § 1204, it's illegal to remove or attempt to remove a child from the United States. It's also illegal to detain a child outside the United States with the intent of obstructing the lawful exercise of parental rights. 

Attempted Kidnapping, Conspiracy, Penalties

Both conspiracy and attempt are both contemplated as forms of kidnapping under 18 U.S.C. § 1201.

If two or more people conspire to violate 18 U.S.C. § 1201 by committing a federal kidnapping, they will both be punished the same as if they had acted alone. An attempted act, however, does carry a lesser punishment of up to twenty years in federal prison.

If the kidnapping is actually accomplished, the maximum punishment is life in federal prison.  If anyone is killed as a result of the act, the maximum punishment is the death penalty.  The person killed under 18 U.S.C. § 1201 to trigger this sentencing enhancement does not have to be the victim.

If the kidnapping victim is a child and the defendant who is convicted is not a close familial relative, there is a mandatory minimum punishment of twenty years in federal prison.

Fighting 18 U.S.C. § 1201 Kidnapping Charges

Kidnapping prosecuted as a federal crime requires proof that the defendant seized, confined, abducted or carried away someone and either held them for ransom or simply moved them against their will from one place to another.

Defenses include consent, provided the victim is an adult and capable of consent, i.e. not drugged, unconscious, or otherwise incapacitated.

The defendant can also claim that none of the jurisdictional elements described above applies to the particular factual scenario of his or her case, though this would likely only serve to forestall a federal, but not a state, prosecution.  The defendant could also claim mistaken identity.

This federal crime is a life sentence, or even death penalty, eligible offense prosecuted in federal court. If you or a family member is under investigation for, has been charged with, or has been arrested for federal kidnapping under United States Code, Title 18, Section 1201, contact our experienced team of federal criminal defense attorneys for a consultation.

We can assist you, including through a prefiling intervention, to work toward the best possible outcome in your case. Aggressive defense representation is necessary to maximize the chances of a positive resolution in serious federal prosecutions such as those brought under 18 U.S.C. § 1201.

Eisner Gorin LLP is a top-ranked criminal defense law firm representing clients against federal crimes throughout the United States. We are located at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Contact our law firm to review the details of your case at 877-781-1570.

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