Fundamentals of Criminal Law by Adam J. McKee

Kidnapping is the act of unlawfully seizing and detaining someone against their will. Simply put, it means grabbing someone and holding them somewhere without their consent. Often, the kidnapper has a specific goal, such as demanding a ransom, exerting control, or committing another crime like robbery or sexual assault. Kidnapping can happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender, or social status. It’s a serious crime that can leave long-lasting scars, both physical and emotional, on the victim and their family. The severity of the crime usually determines the legal consequences, which may include imprisonment and hefty fines.

The Harm Prevented by Anti-Kidnapping Laws

The primary objective of laws against kidnapping is to protect individual freedom and safeguard the welfare of citizens. Kidnapping represents a grave infringement of a person’s most basic human rights—namely, the right to liberty and the right to be free from harm.

The crime disrupts social order and can instill fear and panic in communities. When someone is kidnapped, they are stripped of their agency and freedom, often subjected to dangerous and traumatic conditions that can include physical abuse, psychological torture, and sometimes even death. The family and friends of the victim also suffer immense emotional distress, sometimes compounded by financial loss if a ransom is involved.

Moreover, kidnapping can serve as a conduit for other crimes, including human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and child abuse. It also hampers economic development, as the fear of kidnapping can deter business and tourism. Laws against kidnapping thus aim to create a deterrent effect. By punishing the perpetrators severely, lawmakers intend to discourage people from engaging in this heinous act.

Kidnapping According to Legal Codes

Kidnapping is generally classified as a felony, meaning it is among the most serious types of crimes. The specifics can vary by jurisdiction, but kidnapping often comes with severe penalties, including long prison sentences and substantial fines. In some jurisdictions, kidnapping is categorized under various degrees or levels, depending on factors such as the kidnapper’s intent, the use of weapons, and the age of the victim.

How Kidnapping Fits into Broader Criminal Categories

Kidnapping is primarily considered a crime against persons, as it directly harms the individual kidnapped. However, it can also overlap with crimes against property if, for example, a ransom is demanded. In cases where kidnapping is conducted for sexual exploitation, it can be categorized under sexual crimes. Kidnapping has a multi-dimensional nature, making it a complex criminal offense that straddles multiple categories of criminal law. This complexity often necessitates that prosecutors charge kidnappers under several different statutes to fully encapsulate the breadth of their criminal conduct.

Historical Evolution of Kidnapping Laws

The concept of kidnapping has roots in ancient civilizations, such as the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi around 1754 BC, where stealing people, typically children or slaves, was punishable by death. Roman law also prohibited kidnapping and prescribed harsh penalties for the perpetrators.

In the medieval period, common law in England began to recognize kidnapping as a standalone offense, separate from other forms of abduction or theft. Legal scholars of the time, like Sir Edward Coke, contributed to the understanding and interpretation of kidnapping laws. However, it was Sir William Blackstone, in his “Commentaries on the Laws of England” (1765-1769), who provided a comprehensive overview. Blackstone distinguished kidnapping as a public wrong that needed to be aggressively penalized to maintain public safety (Blackstone, 1765).

During the 20th century, especially after the high-profile kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s baby in the United States, federal laws against kidnapping were strengthened. Nowadays, most jurisdictions around the world have stringent anti-kidnapping laws, reflecting the seriousness with which this crime is treated.

The MPC’s Take on Kidnapping

The Modern Penal Code (MPC) provides a comprehensive definition of kidnapping that serves as a guideline for many U.S. jurisdictions. According to Section 212.1 of the MPC, a person is guilty of kidnapping if they unlawfully remove another person a substantial distance from the place where he is found, or if they unlawfully confine another person for a substantial period, with the intent to:

  1. Hold for ransom or reward, or as a shield or hostage;
  2. Facilitate the commission of any felony or flight thereafter;
  3. Inflict bodily injury or to terrorize the victim or another;
  4. Interfere with the performance of any governmental or political function.

The MPC also differentiates between kidnapping and “false imprisonment” by considering the distance and time involved in the abduction, as well as the perpetrator’s intent (MPC Section 212.1). The code considers a “substantial distance” and a “substantial period” as factors that elevate the crime from false imprisonment to kidnapping.

Elements: What Makes It Kidnapping

The MPC lays out specific elements that must be present for an act to be classified as kidnapping. These elements include:

  • Mens Rea: The mental intent to unlawfully remove or confine another person.
  • Actus Reus: The physical act of unlawfully removing or confining another person.
  • Concurrence: The mental intent and the physical act must occur simultaneously.
  • Attendant Circumstances: Additional factors, like the use of a weapon, may also be considered.

Defenses to Kidnapping under the MPC

Consent as a Defense

One notable defense in kidnapping cases under the MPC is the consent of the victim. According to Section 2.11, consent is a defense to kidnapping if it is freely given and legally valid. However, this doesn’t apply if the victim is a minor or incapacitated in some way.

Other Defenses

Other defenses might include duress, where the defendant was forced or threatened into committing the crime, and lack of intent, where the defendant can prove that they did not intend to commit the offense as defined under the MPC.

Summary of Key Elements

To summarize, the key elements involved in a kidnapping offense according to the Modern Penal Code are:

  1. Mens Rea: The intent to kidnap.
  2. Actus Reus: The act of kidnapping itself.
  3. Concurrence: Both the intent and act must be present.
  4. Attendant Circumstances: Additional factors that may elevate the crime’s seriousness.

In Summary

Kidnapping is a complex crime with a deep-rooted historical significance. Laws against kidnapping aim to prevent a multitude of harms and are classified as a serious felony offense. With modern guidelines like the MPC, the scope, elements, and defenses related to kidnapping have become much clearer.

Modification History

File Created:  07/17/2018

Last Modified:  08/24/2023

[ Back | Content | Next]

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

Open Education Resource--Quality Master Source License


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.