When the word kidnapping gets mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is abducting and holding someone against their will and demanding ransom. Even so, that’s not always the case because kidnapping may involve many other actions. In Florida, kidnapping charges often get prosecuted aggressively, and you face severe penalties if convicted.
Generally, kidnapping charges in Florida get prosecuted under state law. They can also be prosecuted under federal law if the alleged kidnapping occurred across state lines. Under the Federal Kidnapping Act or the Lindbergh Law, Federal authorities can pursue and prosecute kidnapping cases that occurred across state lines.
A lot will be at stake when you face federal kidnapping charges. You need an experienced federal kidnapping lawyer if you’ve been arrested or are under a federal kidnapping investigation. At Meltzer & Bell, P.A., we have years of experience handling federal cases and can effectively defend you against federal kidnapping charges.
What Does Federal Kidnapping Entail?
Besides abducting someone and holding them against their will, several other actions can constitute kidnapping. Even so, the legal definition of kidnapping is holding someone against their will to ask for a ransom, harm them, interfere with a government activity, or perpetrate a crime. Conversely, false imprisonment strictly entails holding someone against their will, and without intending to commit another crime.
Which Elements Need to be Proved?
Under Federal law, kidnapping is a crime of violence. These elements must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt for you to get convicted of federal kidnapping charges:
- You used the threat of force or force to abduct, confine, or imprison the alleged victim with no lawful authority and against their will.
- The alleged crime happened across state borders.
- You had one of these four intents:
- Holding the alleged victim for ransom, holding them as a hostage, or using them as a shield.
- Confining, abducting, imprisoning, or assisting in the commission of the crime.
- Terrorizing the alleged victim or inflicting bodily harm.
- Interfering with the performance of a political or governmental function.
When prosecuting federal kidnapping charges, the government must also prove that the confinement or abduction wasn’t just incidental while committing the offense. For this reason, kidnapping charges can’t stand if the confinement/imprisonment was an included element of the initial felony or made it easier to commit.
The Federal Kidnapping Law
The federal criminal offense of kidnapping is outlined under 18 U.S.C. § 1201. Federal kidnapping charges often attract harsher penalties than Florida kidnapping charges. The penalties you’ll face depend on the severity of the alleged offense and other factors.
The FBI and other federal agencies can obtain evidence and file charges if the federal government gets involved in pursuing and prosecuting kidnapping cases. The federal statute 18 U.S.C. § 1201 codifies the federal crime of kidnapping and provides the legal definition for this offense.
The Legal Definition of Federal Kidnapping
18 U.S.C. § 1201 provides the legal definition of federal kidnapping as unlawfully seizing, confining, kidnapping, abducting, and holding a person for ransom, except in the case of a minor by their parent. Kidnapping becomes a federal offense if the alleged victim is transported across state lines in foreign or interstate commerce and doesn’t get released for at least 24 hours.
The Federal Kidnapping Act also outlines various situations whereby the federal government can invoke its jurisdiction and bring a prosecution in court. A case in point is whereby the defendant, and not necessarily the victim, travels interstate to commit the crime of kidnapping or uses the instruments of interstate commerce to commit the offense.
Unique Scenarios That Qualify as Federal Kidnapping
Under the Federal Kidnapping Act, the instrumentalities of interstate kidnapping can include the banking system, mail, and other facilities that interact across state lines.
Other specific scenarios can qualify as federal kidnapping. For instance, if the offense occurred on a special aircraft or marine jurisdiction of the United States, it will be prosecuted in federal court. That includes kidnapping incidents on specific aircraft or ships on the seas.
You can also face federal kidnapping charges if the alleged victim is an official of the United States or a foreign government and got kidnapped while performing government-related duties. Due to the officials’ status, you’ll get prosecuted under 18 U.S.C. § 1201 in federal court regardless of whether the crime occurred across state lines.
Federal Kidnapping Involving Interstate Commerce
18 U.S.C. § 1201 allows for a rebuttable presumption that the kidnapping act involves interstate commerce if the alleged kidnapper doesn’t release the victim within 24 hours. This is usually the case when the kidnapping involves carjacking.
It’s best to remember that this is merely a rebuttable presumption. A defendant can contest the federal government’s jurisdiction over the case later on. Nonetheless, the presumption allows the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies to become involved in an investigation to apprehend and prosecute a kidnapping suspect.
Can You Kidnap Your Own Child?
It’s common for parents to contest the custody of their children. For this reason, many parents end up facing kidnapping charges unknowingly. However, one question you need to ask is, can I face federal kidnapping charges for forcibly taking my child from another party?
Well, the Federal Kidnapping Act has a separate statute that explicitly deals with parental kidnapping. 18 U.S.C. § 1204 stipulates that it’s illegal to remove or attempt to remove a minor from the US. Detaining a minor outside the United States to obstruct the exercise of parental rights is also illegal.
The penalty for this offense is generally less severe than that of other federal kidnapping charges. You face up to three years imprisonment if convicted of this offense. Even so, you will face harsher penalties if you kidnapped your child while your legal parental rights were terminated. In this case, your charges and penalties will be as severe as anyone who has committed any other federal kidnapping offense.
Attempted Kidnapping and Conspiracy to Kidnap
Kidnapping doesn’t need to occur for you to face criminal charges under federal law. The Federal Kidnapping Act stipulates that conspiracy to kidnap and attempting to kidnap, are both forms of kidnapping.
In this case, if you conspired with someone else to violate the Federal Kidnapping Act, you will face similar penalties as someone who acted alone. However, an attempted kidnapping act carries a lesser punishment in federal prison compared to an actual kidnap.
Federal Kidnapping vs False Imprisonment
If you’re facing federal kidnapping charges, you’ll wonder whether the offense differs from false imprisonment. Both are serious felonies in Florida and carry considerable jail time, court fines, and other penalties. Nonetheless, federal courts consider kidnapping as the more severe charge.
The main distinction between federal kidnapping and false imprisonment lies in their definition. Florida law defines false imprisonment as forcibly and threateningly abducting, confining, and restraining another person against their will and without lawful authority. Unlike federal kidnapping, false imprisonment is a third-degree offense at a minimum and a first-degree felony at worst.
False imprisonment is the less severe charge of the two, and the punishments tend to be less steep than those associated with federal kidnapping. Although the definitions of the two offenses are similar, a false imprisonment charge lacks the criminal or malicious intent present in federal kidnapping.
Another critical distention between the two offenses is that federal kidnapping typically involves moving the victim to a different location and holding them there against their will. On the other hand, false imprisonment could mean detaining the victim where the incident occurred without further criminal or malicious intent.
What Are the Penalties for Federal Kidnapping?
The penalties will be similar whether you’re facing federal kidnapping charges in West Palm Beach or elsewhere in the US. For instance, a federal kidnapping attempt is punishable by a maximum jail term of twenty years in federal prison. You risk life behind bars if the kidnapping occurred.
The death penalty is the maximum punishment if someone dies during the kidnapping. The sentencing enhancement comes into play even if the person killed isn’t the intended victim of the kidnapping attempt.
You face a mandatory minimum punishment of 20 years in federal prison if the alleged kidnapping victim is a child and you’re not a close familial relative. However, you’ll be jailed for a maximum of three years if you’re a parent to the alleged victim and had parental rights at the time of the kidnapping.
Further Penalties and Punishments
If you get convicted, your punishment for federal kidnapping doesn’t stop at incarceration. After completing your jail term, you can face further penalties and punishments. For instance, you may have to undertake community service or undergo probation.
If the kidnapping involved sexual assault, you’ll also be required to register as a sexual offender. A conviction stays in your record and can be seen by prospective employers, landlords, education institutions, and anyone interested in looking at your past. Indeed, this can limit your life opportunities significantly.
In line with this, the last thing you want is to risk your future because of a federal kidnapping charge. The attorneys at the law offices of Meltzer & Bell, P.A. in West Palm Beach have the expertise to fight the charges and obtain a favorable outcome.
Fighting Federal Kidnapping Charges
When facing federal kidnapping charges, your chances of escaping a conviction may seem slim. With an aggressive federal kidnapping lawyer, it’s possible to fight your charges.
At Meltzer & Bell, P.A., we have decades of experience defending clients facing federal charges. We use different defense strategies to fight federal kidnapping charges, including:
- Mistaken Identity
Our federal kidnapping attorneys may argue that the witness or alleged victim who identified you mistook you for someone else. We may also point out that the witness/alleged victim identified you while in an unsound state of mind, so their statement doesn’t hold water.
We may also argue that you believed you had the authority to take the alleged victim or that they consented to go with you. This argument often comes into play in federal kidnapping cases involving children and mentally incapacitated adults.
- No Aggravating Circumstances
Suppose your federal kidnapping case doesn’t involve aggravating circumstances such as violence or coercion. Our attorneys may argue for less severe charges by proving that no aggravating circumstances were present during the alleged kidnapping.
- Lack of Intent
Sometimes, defendants in federal kidnapping cases didn’t have the intent to commit a federal offense. An experienced attorney can fight to show that you didn’t intend to commit the alleged crime. In this case, they may argue for a lesser offense like false imprisonment.
- Honest Mistake
We may also use this defense for federal kidnapping cases involving custody arrangements between estranged spouses. Usually, it’s possible for the defendants to misunderstand how custody arrangements work, leading them to take a child away from home mistakenly. Another scenario is driving away without knowing the child is inside the car.
- Forced Participation
Coercion could be an effective defense if you got blackmailed or threatened to commit the alleged crime. In this regard, we can submit evidence proving your forced participation in the crime, including tape-recorded phone conversation, eyewitness statements, and medical records.
- Violation of the 4th Amendment
A federal kidnapping charge can only be proved if the prosecution presents compelling physical evidence linking you to the alleged crime. Such evidence is only be obtained after your vehicle or home gets searched. However, if the search is illegal, we may argue that evidence linking you to the alleged kidnapping got obtained illegally.
Contact a Federal Kidnapping Lawyer
The criminal defense attorneys at Meltzer & Bell, P.A. in West Palm Beach represent clients accused of federal kidnapping. We fully understand the severity of these cases and the hefty penalties of a conviction. Thus, we work hard to defend our clients’ rights and secure the best possible outcome in each case we handle.
We are here to help you explore the available legal options and represent you if you or a loved one is under a federal kidnapping investigation or gets arrested for federal kidnapping. Contact us today to schedule a free case consultation.