Fundamentals of Criminal Law by Adam J. McKee

Abduction is essentially the act of taking someone away without their consent, often by using force or trickery. Imagine if someone physically grabbed you and took you to a place against your will or lured you somewhere with false promises—those actions would constitute abduction.

The person who commits the act is called the abductor, and the person taken is the abductee. Abduction can occur for various reasons, including ransom, human trafficking, or other criminal activities. While it may seem similar to kidnapping, abduction often has broader implications, as it doesn’t always involve holding the person for ransom or any other explicit demands.

The Harm the Legislature Seeks to Prevent

To understand the gravity of the crime of abduction, it is vital to explore the harms that legislative bodies aim to prevent. Abduction is an intrusion upon personal liberty, often leading to severe emotional and sometimes physical trauma. Not only does the abductee experience profound suffering, but their families and communities also endure an extended period of agony, uncertainty, and fear.

Laws against abduction serve a dual purpose: deterrence and punishment. Deterrence aims to discourage would-be offenders from committing the crime, while punishment ensures that those who do commit the crime face adequate retribution. Legislators are keen to craft laws that balance these elements, primarily because abduction can serve as a gateway to other offenses like assault, robbery, and human trafficking. In some instances, the act may also result in the tragic loss of life.

The prevention of abduction is, therefore, a societal imperative. It is an affront to basic human rights, including freedom and security. Strong laws, severe penalties, and an effective justice system are all key components in mitigating the risks and impacts of abduction.

Classification According to Most Codes

Abduction is usually classified as a felony in most jurisdictions, signifying its severe nature. Depending upon the circumstances, like the age of the abductee or the use of weapons, additional charges may also apply. Penalties can vary, but they typically include substantial prison time, fines, and sometimes mandatory counseling for the abductor.

How Abduction Fits into Categories of Offenses

Abduction primarily falls under the category of crimes against persons. Unlike crimes against property, which involve theft or destruction of physical items, crimes against persons target individuals directly and include offenses like assault, murder, and robbery. In some jurisdictions, abduction can overlap with sexual crimes, especially if the act leads to sexual assault or exploitation. It may also intersect with crimes involving domestic violence, where the abductor and abductee are family members or in a relationship. The multi-faceted nature of abduction makes it a complex crime to understand and prosecute.

A Historical Trace of Abduction

The concept of abduction has deep historical roots, manifesting differently across time and cultures. Ancient societies like Mesopotamia and Rome addressed abduction in their legal systems. The Hammurabi Code, one of the oldest recorded legal systems (circa 1754 BCE), does include clauses against the illegal seizure of persons. Similarly, Roman Law had provisions that punished abductors.

Over time, Common Law, derived from English law, elaborated on these ideas. Sir William Blackstone, a seminal figure in Common Law, highlighted the crime in his works, particularly in “Commentaries on the Laws of England” (1769). Blackstone categorically condemned the act, reinforcing the notions of personal liberty and freedom. He defined it as “the forcible abduction or stealing away of a man, woman, or child from their own country, and sending them into another.”

Through the ages, legislators have expanded upon Blackstone’s frameworks, adapting to the complexities of modern life, such as the rise of human trafficking and cyber-abduction. Today, laws are far more nuanced, taking into account different forms of coercion, the age of the abductee, and the purpose behind the abduction.

Modern Penal Code Definition of Abduction

In the United States, the Modern Penal Code (MPC) is often a go-to resource for legal definitions and standards, even though it’s not law itself. States have their own laws but they often take cues from the MPC. Abduction under the MPC is generally covered under Section 212.1–212.3, which mainly concerns kidnapping and related offenses.

According to the MPC, abduction generally involves restraining a person either with the intent to hold for ransom, or to facilitate the commission of another felony, or to terrorize the victim or a third person. The definition has evolved to include acts where a person is restrained to interfere with a political or governmental function.

It is important to note that the term “restrain” in this context broadly means to restrict a person’s movements without consent or legal authority, in a manner that interferes substantially with his or her liberty. Essentially, abduction is not just physically grabbing someone; it can also involve trickery, deceit, or even intimidation to unlawfully restrain someone.

The depth and breadth of the MPC definition indicate that modern lawmakers have taken into account the various forms and intents behind abduction. With advancements in technology, cyber-abduction has also entered the conversation, though many states are still grappling with how to integrate these newer forms into existing legal frameworks.

Defenses to Abduction in the Penal Code

The Modern Penal Code does outline specific defenses to the crime of abduction. Some common defenses include:


One of the defenses listed in the MPC is that the person abducted, or the parent or guardian of the abducted person, consented to the act. However, this defense is usually not applicable if the consent was obtained through fraud or coercion.

Lack of Knowledge

Another defense could be the lack of knowledge or intention to commit a crime. For example, if someone genuinely believes they have legal custody of a child and they haven’t abducted them, this could serve as a defense.

Lawful Authority

In some cases, the act of restraining another person may be justified by lawful authority, such as the police arresting a suspect.


Though not explicitly mentioned in the MPC, the defense of necessity could be invoked in extreme situations where the act of abduction was the lesser of two evils and done to prevent a greater harm.

These defenses are conditional and depend heavily on the circumstances surrounding the case.

Summary List of Elements of Abduction

In legal terms, to prove that someone committed abduction, these elements usually need to be present:

  1. Mens Rea – Intention or knowledge that the act will result in the abduction of the victim.
  2. Actus Reus – The physical act of restraining or moving the victim against their will.
  3. Concurrence – The mental state and the act must occur together.
  4. Attendant Circumstances – Additional factors like the use of weapons, the age of the victim, etc.

Abduction, Kidnapping, and False Imprisonment: Understanding the Differences

Understanding the distinctions among abduction, kidnapping, and false imprisonment is crucial, especially when it comes to legal proceedings. While these terms are often used interchangeably in everyday language, they have different definitions and implications in a legal context.


As discussed earlier, abduction involves the unlawful taking or restraint of a person against their will, often by force, fraud, or coercion. Abduction is a broader term that can include various intentions beyond ransom, such as human trafficking or facilitating other crimes. It primarily involves the act of moving or restraining someone without their consent, thereby infringing upon their personal freedom.


Kidnapping is a more specific form of abduction. It generally involves abducting a person and holding them against their will, usually with a particular purpose like ransom or to support some other crime. The focus is on the captor’s intent to detain the individual for a specific reason. Kidnapping often entails severe penalties, especially when it involves minors or if the kidnapped individual is harmed during the act.

False Imprisonment

False imprisonment is the least severe among these offenses but is still a significant crime. It involves restraining a person’s freedom of movement but doesn’t necessarily require moving the person from one location to another. It can be as simple as locking someone in a room without their consent. False imprisonment doesn’t always involve criminal intent like ransom demands, which distinguishes it from kidnapping.

Key Differences: Elements and Intent

  1. Intent: Kidnapping usually involves a specific intent like ransom or facilitating another crime. Abduction is broader and could involve various motives, including human trafficking. False imprisonment may have no additional criminal intent beyond the act of unlawful restraint.
  2. Movement: Abduction and kidnapping generally involve moving the victim from one place to another. False imprisonment restricts movement but does not require that the victim be moved.
  3. Duration: Kidnapping often involves a longer duration of restraint, given its usual intents like ransom. False imprisonment can be a matter of minutes. Abduction varies widely in terms of duration.
  4. Severity: Generally, kidnapping is considered the most severe and carries the harshest penalties, followed by abduction and then false imprisonment.

Understanding these subtle differences can be crucial in legal contexts, as the specific charges laid can influence both the strategy of the defense and the severity of the penalties involved.

Modification History

File Created:  07/17/2018

Last Modified:  08/23/2023

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This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

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