Definitions

kidnapping

kidnapping

[kid-nap]
kidnapping, in law, the taking away of a person by force, threat, or deceit, with intent to cause him to be detained against his will. Kidnapping may be done for ransom or for political or other purposes. A parent whose legal rights to custody of a child have been revoked can be guilty of the crime for taking the child. Consent of a kidnapped person is a defense, unless given by one legally incompetent at the time (e.g., a minor or a mentally ill person). The crime differs from abduction, in that the intent of sexual intercourse is not required, and from false imprisonment, in which there is no attempt to abduct.

Under common law kidnapping was only a misdemeanor, but in most states of the United States it is now punishable by death or life imprisonment if there are no extenuating circumstances. The kidnapping and murder of the son of Charles A. Lindbergh in 1932 led to a federal statute prescribing severe penalties for transporting the victims of kidnapping across state or national boundaries. The practice of kidnapping, in the wider and not strictly legal sense, has been known since the beginnings of history. It was common as a method for procuring slaves, and it has also been employed by brigands and revolutionaries to obtain money through ransom or to hold hostages whose safe release was dependent on the freeing of political prisoners.

Crime of seizing, confining, abducting, or carrying away a person by force or fraud, often to subject him or her to involuntary servitude, in an attempt to demand a ransom, or in furtherance of another crime. Most countries consider it a grave offense punishable by a long prison sentence or death.

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In criminal law, kidnapping is the taking away or asportation of a person against the person's will, usually to hold the person in false imprisonment, a confinement without legal authority. This is often done for ransom or in furtherance of another crime. A majority of jurisdictions in the United States retain the "asportation" element for kidnapping, where the victim must be confined in a bounded area against their will and moved. Any amount of movement will suffice for the requirement, even if it is moving the abductee to a house next door. In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, however, the asportation element has been abolished. Note that under early English common law, the asportation element required that the victim be moved outside the realm of England or overseas in order for an abduction to be considered "kidnapping".

According to the National Crime Information Center:

As of December 31, 2007, there were 105,229 active missing person records in NCIC. Juveniles under the age of 18 accounted for 54,648 (51.93%) of the records, and 12,362 (11.75%) were for juveniles between the ages of 18 and 20. During 2007, 814,967 missing person records were entered into NCIC, a decrease of 2.53% from the 836,131 records entered in 2006.

Missing person records cleared or canceled during the same period totaled 820,212. Reasons for these removals include: the subject was located by a law enforcement agency; the individual returned home; or the record had to be removed by the entering agency due to a determination that the record was invalid.

In 2007, there were 518 records entered as Abducted by a Stranger; 299,787 entered as Runaway; and 2,919 entered as Abducted by Non-Custodial Parent. This only accounts for 303,224 entries of the 418,967 entered, or 72.4%, which is an increase from 297,632 entries of the 836,131 entered, or 35.6%, in 2006. The Missing Person Circumstances field is optional and has been available since July 1999 when the NCIC 2000 came online. This is not an accurate reflection of the actual circumstances of all the entries.

It is inconclusive at this point as to whether these disappearances were kidnappings for money or for other reasons, but around 28% of the 418,967 entries could be kidnappings. It is premature at this time to say that kidnapping for any reason is nonexistent in the United States.

Following the highly publicized 1932 Lindbergh kidnapping, Congress authorized the FBI to investigate kidnapping at a time when the Bureau was expanding in size and authority. The Bureau made kidnap for ransom a special priority, and continues to do so today. It pursues kidnap cases ferociously; agents who have rescued kidnap victims have been known to describe these rescues as personal high points of their careers.

There are several deterrents to kidnapping in the United States of America. Among these are:

  1. The extreme logistical challenges involved in successfully exchanging the money for the victim without being apprehended or surveiled.
  2. Harsh punishment. Convicted kidnappers can expect to face lengthy prison terms. If a victim is brought across state lines, federal charges can be brought as well.
  3. Good cooperation and information sharing between law enforcement agencies, and tools for spreading information (such as the AMBER Alert system.)

The harsh sentences imposed and the poor risk-to-benefit ratio compared with other crimes have caused kidnap for profit virtually to die out in the United States. One notorious failed example of kidnap for ransom was the Chowchilla bus kidnapping, in which 26 children were abducted with the intention of bringing in a $5 million ransom. Kidnappings for profit that do occur in or into the United States today often are often connected to other ongoing criminal activity, such as human trafficking.

In the past, and presently in some parts of the world (such as southern Sudan), kidnapping is a common means used to obtain slaves and money through ransom. In more recent times, kidnapping in the form of shanghaiing (or "pressganging") men was used to supply merchant ships in the 19th century with sailors, whom the law considered unfree labour.

Kidnapping can also take place in the context of deprogramming, a now rare practice used to convince someone to give up his or her commitment to a new religious movement, called a cult or sect by critics, that the subject's family members consider harmful, prompting their hiring of a deprogrammer.

Stockholm syndrome is a term used to describe the relationship a hostage can build with their kidnapper.

According to a 2003 Domestic Violence Report in Colorado, out of a survey of 189 incidents, most people (usually white females) are taken from their homes or residence by a present or former spouse or significant other. They are usually taken by force, not by weapon, and usually the victims are not injured when they are freed.

Kidnapping versus abduction

In the terminology of the common law in many jurisdictions (according to Black's Law Dictionary), the crime of kidnapping is labelled abduction when the victim is a woman. In modern usage, kidnapping or abduction of a child is often called child stealing, particularly when done not to collect a ransom but rather with the intention of keeping the child permanently (often in a case where the child's parents are divorced or legally separated, whereupon the parent who does not have legal custody will commit the act, also known as "childnapping"). Today, the term is no longer restricted to the case of a child victim.

Child abduction can refer to children being taken away without their parents' consent but with the consent of the child. In England and Wales, it is child abduction to take away a child under the age of 16 without parental consent.

Kidnapping in English law

This is a common law offense requiring:
that one person takes and carries another away;
by force or fraud;
without the consent of the person taken; and
without lawful excuse.

It would be difficult to kidnap without also committing false imprisonment, which is the common-law offense of intentionally or recklessly detaining the victim. The use of force to take and detain will also be regarded as an assault, and other, related offences may also be committed before, during, or after the detention.

Alongside murder, kidnapping is the last really significant offence under the common law which has yet to be codified into statute.

Named forms

  • Bride kidnapping is a term often applied loosely, to include any bride physically 'abducted' against the will of her parents, even if she is willing to marry the 'abductor'. It still is traditional amongst certain nomadic peoples of Central Asia. It has seen a resurgence in Kyrgystan since the fall of the Soviet Union and the subsequent erosion of women's rights.
  • Tiger kidnapping is taking an innocent hostage to make a loved one or associate of the victim do something, e.g. a child is taken hostage to force the shopkeeper to open the safe; the term originates from the usually long preceding observation, like a tiger does on the prowl.

Kidnapping today

Kidnapping for ransom is a common occurrence in various parts of the world today, and certain cities and countries are often described as the "Kidnapping Capital of the World." As of 2007, that title belongs to Baghdad. In 2004, it was Mexico, and in 2001 it was Colombia. Haiti also has frequent kidnappings (starting several years ago), as do certain parts of Africa.

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