In 2016, there were more than 1,190 reports of children who had been kidnapped by family members. More than 350 of those cases were in Los Angeles County. The crime of kidnapping does not require that a family member is involved, nor does it require that the victim is a child. However, family abductions of children are one of the most commonly reported types of kidnapping crimes in California. If you’re facing kidnapping charges, call Los Angeles kidnapping attorney Ambrosio Rodriguez today for a free consultation.
As a former prosecutor, Ambrosio E. Rodriguez knows how the prosecution will approach a criminal case and, more importantly, knows the mistakes they are likely to make. He uses this knowledge and experience to help his clients successfully fight the serious criminal charges they face. Contact The Rodriguez Law Group today to discuss your best legal options.
Kidnapping – Penal Code 207 PC
We’ve all seen kidnapping stories on television and in the movies, but what exactly qualifies as a kidnapping in California? The crime of kidnapping is defined in California Penal Code 207 PC as “forcibly, or by any other means of instilling fear, steals or takes, or holds, detains, or arrests any person” and carrying them “into another country, state, or county.” Essentially, kidnapping is the crime of using force or the threat of harm to relocate another person against his or her will.
If you are charged with kidnapping under Penal Code 207 PC the prosecution must prove that you are guilty of each element of the crime. You can only be convicted of kidnapping in California if the prosecution can prove:
- You took, held, or detained another person through the use of force or fear;
- You used that force or fear to move the victim a substantial distance; and
- The victim did not (or could not) consent to the move.
It is important to understand what the prosecution is required to prove for each of these elements.
Took, Held, or Detained Another Person Through Force or Fear
What does it mean to use force or fear to move another person? Generally, this will include using physical force or the threat of violence against the victim or another person. Examples of force can include dragging, pushing, beating, shoving, restraining, or drugging. Examples of fear can include displaying a firearm or knife, threatening the immediate safety of the victim or a loved one, or threatening the future safety of the victim or a loved one.
Moving the Victim a Substantial Distance
To be guilty of kidnapping in California you must move a victim a substantial distance. There is no standard definition for what distances will or will not qualify as “substantial.” A substantial distance must be more than “slight or trivial.” In determining whether the move was a substantial distance a jury must consider the actual distance the victim was moved as well as all of the circumstances of the incident and all relevant factors. Factors to be considered in determining if the distance a victim was moved was substantial include whether the movement:
- Increased the risk of harm to the victim, either psychological or physical;
- Increased the danger of any attempt at an escape;
- Presented a greater opportunity for you to commit additional crimes; or
- Made detection by police or search parties more difficult.
Without Consent of the Victim
Consent of the alleged victim can be a defense to the charge of kidnapping in California. The prosecution must be able to prove that you did not have the consent of the victim to convict you of the crime. Consent is only given when the victim freely and voluntarily agrees to relocate, is aware of the movement, and is mature enough to make the decision to move.
Even if a victim consents to the movement at the beginning, he or she is free to revoke that consent at any point in time. You can be found guilty of kidnapping if the victim revokes his or her consent and you continue to detain them against his or her will.
The charge of kidnapping can be aggravated in certain situations. The crime of kidnapping will be aggravated if you:
- Kidnap a child using fraudulent or deceitful actions for the purpose of molestation;
- Kidnap a child or person with a mental disability;
- Detain or hold another person for ransom, a reward, extortion, or to gain something of value;
- Kidnap another person during the commission of a robbery, rape, or sex crime (or attempt);
- Kidnap another person during a carjacking.
Note, it is not necessary to actually move another person to be convicted of aggravated kidnapping under Penal Code 207(c). The prosecution must only prove that you held or detained another person for ransom against his or her will.
Penalties for Kidnapping
Kidnapping is a felony offense in California. Absent any aggravating factors, simple kidnapping is punishable by 3, 5, or 8 years in a California state prison and by fines of up to $10,000.
The criminal sentence for aggravated kidnapping will depend on the facts and circumstances of each specific case. Factors that will influence the severity of the punishment include:
- The age of the victim,
- Whether the victim suffered or was likely to suffer bodily harm,
- The distance the victim was moved,
- Your prior criminal record,
- Other crimes committed during the kidnapping, and
- Whether the victim was held for ransom, reward, or extortion.
The most serious kidnapping charges will apply when the victim is under the age of 14; when the victim is held for ransom, taken during another crime, or abducted in a carjacking; and when the victim dies or is held in a situation where death is likely to occur. In some cases, you can be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for aggravated kidnapping.
A conviction for simple kidnapping or aggravated kidnapping will count as a “strike” under California’s Three Strikes Law.
Crimes Related to Kidnapping in California
You can still be charged with a crime even if you the prosecution is not successful in proving that you are guilty of kidnapping. California has other laws on the books which criminalize similar actions. Crimes related to kidnapping in California include false imprisonment, child abduction, and deprivation of a child custody order.
False imprisonment, as defined in Penal Code 236 PC, makes it a crime to detain or confine another person without his or her consent. Unlike the crime of kidnapping, there is no requirement to move or relocate that person. If you are arrested for kidnapping in California, prosecutors will often charge you with both false imprisonment and kidnapping. False imprisonment is a “lesser included” crime since it is impossible to kidnap someone without falsely imprisoning them.
Child abduction, as defined in Penal Code 278 PC, makes it a crime for a person without legal custody of a child to keep a child away from his or her legal guardian or parent with malicious intent. Again, there is no requirement to move or relocate the child to be guilty of child abduction. You must only keep the child away from his or her lawful guardian or parent with malicious intent.
Deprivation of a child custody order, as defined in Penal Code 278.5 PC, makes it a crime to keep a child seeing someone who has lawful custody or the right to visitation. You can be charged with this crime even if you have lawful custody of the child. It is enough to prevent another person with lawful custody to visitation from seeing the child.
Defenses to Kidnapping
Just because you have been accused of kidnapping in California does not mean that you will be convicted. While California will undoubtedly use the full force of the law to prosecute allegations of kidnapping, you must still be afforded the opportunity to defend yourself in a court of law. There are certain defenses which can be asserted when you are accused of kidnapping. Defenses to kidnapping in California include:
- Concealing a child under the age of 14 to prevent them from imminent harm or danger;
- Making a lawful citizen’s arrest;
- False accusations;
- Actual innocence;
- Consent of the alleged victim;
- Failure to move a substantial distance; and
- Constitutional violations.
The defense(s) that may be appropriate for your case will depend on the facts and circumstances of the incident that led to your arrest. When speaking with your attorney it is important to disclose any detail that could potentially be relevant. Even the slightest of details could make or break your case. Let your attorney decide which information is (and is not) relevant.
Experienced Los Angeles Kidnapping Attorney
A conviction for kidnapping in California can have serious criminal consequences, including lengthy terms of imprisonment and hefty fines. Future employers, landlords, lenders, and schools who see a kidnapping conviction on your criminal record may be hesitant to approve any applications you submit. This can make it incredibly difficult to find a job, get an apartment or home, or enroll in a school. If the kidnapping charges include allegations of sexual misconduct with a child you may also be required to register as a sex offender with the state of California. The best way to limit these and other negative consequences is to hire an experienced Los Angeles kidnapping attorney to defend you.
For more than 18 years, Ambrosio E. Rodriguez handled thousands of criminal matters as a California Senior Deputy District Attorney. Today he represents clients who are facing serious criminal charges, including kidnapping and aggravated kidnapping. Ambrosio E. Rodriguez uses his experience and knowledge from his time as a District Attorney to get the best possible results for his clients. Contact his Los Angeles office to schedule a free consultation and to learn more about how he can help you get your life back on track after an arrest for kidnapping in California.