Kidnapping often brings to mind images of forcefully stealing away children against their will and vicious sneak attacks. While these types of instances do happen, the more common and realistic instances of this crime often stem from violations of custody agreements and family disputes. While a parent may simply think that they can provide better care for their child, if they violate a custody order, they may be charged with kidnapping or its related offenses.
What is Kidnapping?
Kidnapping is defined through several different acts under Pennsylvania law. There are a number of different ways in which a person may be found guilty of the act of kidnapping.
A person commits the act of kidnapping when they unlawfully remove another person a "substantial distance under the circumstances from the place where he is found," or if they unlawfully confine another person for a substantial period in a place of isolation, with any of the following intentions:
- To hold that person for ransom or reward
- To aid in the committing of a felony or fleeing from a felony
- To inflict bodily injury upon that person or terrorize them or another person
- To interfere with governmental or public officials in their duty
Kidnapping is a first-degree felony under these circumstances.
A person commits unlawful restraint when they:
- restrains another person unlawfully in circumstances exposing him to risk of serious bodily injury
- holds another person in a condition of involuntary servitude
Unlawful restraint is a first-degree misdemeanor when committed against an adult. When committed against a minor, unlawful restraint is a second-degree felony.
Interference With Custody of Children
One particularly common iteration of kidnapping is the interference with custody of children. A person can commit this crime when they knowingly or recklessly take or entice any child under the age of 18 from the custody of their parent, legal guardian or other lawful custodian.
This act is a third-degree felony unless the defendant knew that this act would cause serious alarm for the safety of the child, in which case, it will be a second-degree felony. The crime will be a second degree of the following circumstances apply:
- The defendant acted with "good cause"
- The period of time was less than 24 hours
- The defendant has at least partial custody or visitation rights
What Are The Penalties For Kidnapping in Pennsylvania?
The penalties for kidnapping vary depending on the type of offense, as well as the circumstances of the offense. The varying degrees of offense levels include the following:
- First-degree felony: A first-degree felony is punishable by up to 20 years of jail time, and fines up to $25,000.
- Second-degree felony: A second-degree felony is punishable by up to 10 years of jail time, and fines up to $25,000.
- Second-degree misdemeanor: A second-degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to 2 years of jail time, and fines up $5,000.
It is important to remember, however, that these types of crimes often put a person in violation of any standing custody arrangements. This can have unforeseen consequences in the realm of family law.
How Can I Defend Against Kidnapping Charges in Pennsylvania?
Crimes involving allegations of kidnapping can be complex circumstances. while these criminal charges are taken very seriously, it is possible to propose certain defenses to these claims. For instance, a person may claim as a defense that they were not acting out of the custody order if they are accused of interference with custody of children. Sometimes a child may prefer one parent over another, and by their own agency attempts to remain with their preferred parent, breaking the custody agreement. In addition, a defendant can also claim as a defense to their charges that they were removing the child from a hostile environment, such as another parent using drugs or abusing the child. The court will often weigh the safety of the child over any violations of the custody agreement.
What are Some Examples of Kidnapping?
There are a number of circumstances where a person may be charged with kidnapping, unlawful restraint, or interference with the custody of children. Some examples of this can include:
- A defendant takes a child away from a parent they do not know and removes them from the state
- A defendant takes their own child away from a parent that has primary custody over that child
- A defendant has joint custody of their child but breaks the custody agreement for a period of time over 24 hours
- A defendant prevents a parent's access to a child
Once again, these charges arise out of complex circumstances, and not every case can be thought of a simple open-and-shut kidnapping charge.
Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney
Kidnapping and its related offenses can be difficult and complex criminal charges for anyone accused of them. Much of the time these accusations can ripple through a person's life and affect other areas of the law, such as custody or divorce arrangements. This can become overwhelming for a defendant. An experienced defense attorney can help. Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense attorney with additional experience in the realm of family law and custody negotiation. This can provide a strong edge int he courtroom for any defendant.
If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today.