When most people envision kidnapping, they imagine a person snatching a young child off the street, but the actual criminal charge of kidnapping is quite different. In many cases, kidnapping does not involve the abduction of a child at all. When it does, the offense is an enhanced charge punishable by even more substantial penalties. Whether an abduction is defined as “simple” kidnapping under 207 (PC) or an aggravated version under 208 or 209 (PC) though, it is always a felony offense that will leave offenders behind bars for years to come. If you are suspected of kidnapping, contact a skilled San Diego criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
Kidnapping Laws in California
Simple Kidnaping Charges
California Penal Code section 207 (PC) defines kidnapping as the transportation of a person without their consent through the use of force or fear, or the use of fraud in cases where the victim is under 14. To prove a defendant guilty of kidnapping under 207 (PC), the prosecution must show the victim:
- was moved a substantial distance
- didn’t consent to the movement
- was made to move through the use of fear, force, or, if the victim was under 14, fraud
The Kidnapping of a Minor Under 14
Penal Code 208 (PC) involves abducting a minor under 14 by someone other than a parent, adopted parent, or court-ordered guardian. When the victim is under 14, the crime is a form of aggravated kidnapping, though a distinct charge from 209 (PC); however, most people accused of this offense will also face charges of child abduction without custodial right. To convict someone of this form of kidnapping, the prosecution must prove the victim was:
- under 14
- moved a substantial distance
- subjected to force or fear
- not taken by their parent, adoptive parent, or court-ordered guardian
Notably, if a victim under 14 was abducted using a form of fraud, only simple kidnapping charges apply.
The most serious of all kidnapping laws in California, Penal Code 209 (PC) makes it a more serious crime to kidnap someone for ransom or reward, to cause the victim substantial injury, to kill the victim, or to kidnap someone as part of a robbery, a carjacking or sexual assault. To secure an aggravated kidnapping conviction, prosecutors must show all the conditions of a simple kidnapping charge of 207 (PC) were met and that one or more of the following conditions are applicable:
- the kidnapping was done for the purpose of extortion, ransom, or reward
- the victim was substantially injured or killed
- the abduction was related to robbery, carjacking, rape, spousal rape, forced oral copulation, or forced sodomy
Federal Kidnapping Crimes
It is common for kidnapping offenses to also be investigated by federal agents if there is any reason to suspect the victim may be brought across state or international borders. When a border crossing may be involved in the crime, federal kidnapping charges are often filed in addition to or instead of state charges.
Penalties for Kidnapping Crimes
Kidnapping in California is always a felony, no matter which specific law has been violated. Simple kidnapping under 207 (PC) is punishable by up to 8 years in state prison. Child abduction under 208 (PC) carries a maximum penalty of 11 years in prison. The most serious kidnapping offense is 209 (PC), which can result in a sentence of life in prison, with or without the possibility of parole.
The crime of kidnapping always qualifies as a violent felony and a strike under the state’s three strikes law, meaning offenders need to serve out 85% of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole. Those with two more strikes on their record will be subject to life imprisonment.
Fighting the Charges
The best defense to kidnapping charges will vary based on your specific situation and may involve negotiating a plea bargain or fighting the allegations entirely. In many cases, the best option is for your San Diego criminal defense lawyer to attempt to have aggravated kidnapping charges under 209 or 208 (PC) reduced to simple kidnapping under 207 (PC). If you’re already being accused of simple kidnapping, it may be beneficial if your attorney can have the charges knocked down to false imprisonment. This lesser charge carries a maximum sentence of 3 years in prison and can even be charged as a misdemeanor punishable by no more than 1 year in county jail.
In other cases, the best course of action is to argue that there is insufficient evidence to prove your guilt or that you did not meet the specific requirements of a kidnapping crime. For example, all forms of kidnapping require the victim to be moved a substantial distance. There is no specific legal definition of a “substantial” distance. Instead, this standard is based on the actual distance the victim has been moved, whether the move increased the risk of harm to the victim, and if the movement made it less likely for the suspect to be caught. Moving a victim from one room of their home to another would typically not be enough to be considered kidnapping. Alternatively, using physical force to move someone from a crowded street into a backroom of an abandoned building could be considered kidnapping.
Another distinction necessary to prove a kidnapping charge is that the suspect used force or fear. The only time fraud can be used in a kidnapping charge is in the case of a child abduction with a victim over 14. If an adult was lured into a van with the promise of money, they were not kidnapped.
Because kidnapping charges are so complex, you should never speak with police about this crime without your San Diego criminal defense lawyer at your side. Remember that anything you say can be used against you.
Call a Lawyer Today
The right San Diego criminal lawyer can play a critical role in fighting kidnapping accusations against you. Please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free consultation with Peter M. Liss.