Kidnapping is unlawfully taking a person away to another location or confining them against their will. Pennsylvania and all states have laws against kidnapping, and in certain cases, you can face federal charges.
Federal law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, investigate alleged kidnapping crimes that fall under their jurisdiction, and the U.S. government prosecutes cases aggressively. Penalties can include considerable prison time along with substantial fines and other repercussions, and you can even face charges for other related offenses.
Considering all that's at stake, you need to examine all your options for mounting an effective defense against kidnapping charges, and you should work with an experienced federal criminal defense attorney who can advise you of your rights and help you develop the strongest defense strategy possible.
What Makes Kidnapping a Federal Crime?
Although usually prosecuted at the state level, kidnapping can elevate to the federal level if the crime:
- Crossed state lines or international boundaries
- Affected interstate or foreign commerce
The U.S. government defines kidnapping as unlawfully seizing, abducting, carrying away, confining, or holding a person against their will to obtain ransom or reward. Federal charges can result if you do any of the following:
- Willfully transport a person, whether dead or alive, across state lines or country borders
- Use any means of interstate or foreign commerce or mail service to commit the crime.
- Commit the offense within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States
- Commit the crime using an aircraft, U.S. ships, or other vessels within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States
- Kidnap an officer or employee of the U.S. government while they were performing their official duties
- Kidnap a foreign official, official guest, or internationally protected person
You can also face federal charges if you kidnap someone and do not release them within 24 hours. Additionally, you can face charges for attempting to kidnap someone, and you could face charges for conspiracy if you worked with another person to commit the crime and took overt action toward it.
The federal government can also get involved in cases where you kidnap a representative, officer, employee, or agent of the United States. The same holds true if you are a national of the U.S. and authorities later find you inside the United States.
Federal Kidnapping Penalties
The federal government allows courts to decide prison sentences, and it does not provide a sentence schedule, per se. Nevertheless, you can still face harsh penalties that can include life in prison or even the death penalty if anyone was harmed or killed during the crime.
The government also makes special provisions regarding the kidnapping of children. If you kidnap a child not related to you, you can receive a 20-year minimum prison sentence. Parental abductions of children have their own sets of laws and penalties, and the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, and The Hague Convention govern many of the laws regarding international parent-child abductions.
If you take your child out of the United States intending to obstruct or avoid a lawful exercise of parental rights, such as a custody order, you can face federal charges. You could receive up to three years maximum in federal prison, along with fines.
Along with kidnapping, federal prosecutors can pursue other federal charges against you that include:
- Hostage-taking – Charges can result if you kidnap someone or a group of people to try to force the government or some other third party to do something or not do something. An example is kidnapping an important diplomat to force the government to pass certain legislation. Penalties will depend on the severity of the crime, but you could receive life in prison.
- Terrorism – Related to this, you could also face domestic or international terrorism charges.
- Ransom money – You could face federal charges if you received, possessed, or spent any ransom money and knew it was money from the crime. Prison sentences can go as high as ten years, along with fines.
Additionally, the government can try to prosecute you for other crimes, such as hate crimes, carjacking, human trafficking, and more. Any penalties you receive could go on top of the penalties you receive for the underlying kidnapping charge, so you need to work with an experienced attorney for a full evaluation of your case and help with preparing your defense.
Defenses for Federal Kidnapping
The federal statute provides several “affirmative defenses” that prevent the government from prosecuting someone for international parental kidnapping. If you were acting under the provisions of a valid court order that granted your legal custody or visitation rights, or you were fleeing an incidence or pattern of domestic violence, you shouldn't face charges for kidnapping. The same holds true if you failed to return the child in a timely fashion due to circumstances beyond your control.
In all other cases, your defense options will lie in the facts and circumstances of your case. After careful review, your attorney may identify strategies to help you fight the charges or even have them dismissed altogether. Some options may include:
- You had no intent on seizing, abducting, or confining the person against their will.
- You did not unlawfully hold them against their will for more than 24 hours.
- The person gave consent or agreed to go with you, and you did not drug them or coerce them into making that decision.
- The federal government has no jurisdiction over the crime because of when and where it occurred. While you may face state-level charges for kidnapping, you should not face federal charges as well.
You need an objective evaluation of your case from an attorney with extensive knowledge of federal kidnapping laws, and you want an experienced attorney on your side who will fight hard to increase your chances for success.
Hire an Experienced Federal Defense Attorney Today
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has many years of experience defending clients against federal kidnapping and other federal crimes in Pennsylvania Eastern and Middle District Courts. He will review your case, advise you of your options, and help you create an effective defense. Call the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team at 888-535-3686 or fill out our contact form to request a confidential consultation.