Kidnapping is a serious crime in both state and federal jurisdictions. In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, kidnapping is defined under Massachusetts General Laws, Section 26, Chapter 265 as the confinement or imprisonment of a person against their will when the perpetrator is not authorized to do so, or the seizing or taking of a person with the intent to hold them against their will unlawfully and in secret. At the federal level, enforcement for kidnapping crimes applies when 1) the victim is not returned within 24 hours, 2) the victim is moved across state lines 3) the victim is moved across international borders or within certain US territorial jurisdictions 4) the victim is a US government or foreign official.
Kidnapping Crimes in Massachusetts
Kidnapping is a felony and considered a violent crime in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, punishable by prison time between a maximum of two years in jail or up to a life sentence in prison, depending on the nature of the crime and the motive for which it was committed. Massachusetts statutes about kidnapping crimes cover various motives. A perpetrator may commit kidnapping in order to extort money or valuables, to engage in child trafficking, or in response to losing custody of their child. The penalties for kidnapping crimes depend on the age of the victim, whether or not a firearm was used, and the level of violence involved in the crime.
- In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a kidnapping conviction is punishable by up to 2 years in jail or 10 years in a state prison, and a fine of up to $1,000.
- Kidnapping using a firearm, rifle, assault weapon or machine gun. The sentence for kidnapping involving a firearm is more severe – a minimum of 10 years in state prison or up to 2.5 years in a house of correction. If the victim suffers serious bodily injury or sexual assualt, the crime is punishable by a minimum prison sentence of 25 years.
- Kidnapping using a firearm, rifle, assault weapon or machine gun in order to extort money. Many well-known kidnapping cases involve demands for ransom. In order to discourage this motive for kidnapping, the maximum sentence is life in prison.
- Drugging a person for the purposes of kidnapping carries a punishment of a minimum of 10 years in prison up to a maximum of a life sentence.
- Kidnapping of a minor under the age of 16. For the crime of kidnapping a child under the age of 16 with the intent to hold them against their will or move them out of the state for the purposes of holding them against their will, the penalty is up to 15 years in prison.
- Kidnapping of a minor or incompetent by a relative. The penalty for kidnapping a relative who is a minor is up to one year in a house of correction and a fine of $1000. If the child is put at risk of their safety the penalty increases to up to five years in state prison and/or a fine of up to $5000.
- Parental kidnapping. A parent involved in a custody battle or who is distraught after losing custody may kidnap their own child by removing them without permission from the custodial parent’s care, possibly moving them to another state or attempting to take them overseas. Considering the stress and trauma this can cause for the child and their custodial parent, parental kidnapping is punishable under the same statute as Kidnapping of a minor or incompetent by a relative. However, if there is no custodial agreement or court order in place preventing a parent from moving their child, they can not be charged with parental kidnapping.
A federal law, the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, was enacted in 1980 to require all 50 states to enforce each others’ custody laws. A parent cannot remove their child to another state in order to challenge the custody agreement in the child’s home state.
Depending on the nature of the crime, the defendant may be charged with kidnapping as well as armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, or extortion if it was committed to facilitate those crimes. An armed robbery at a bank where employees were taken hostage, for example, would warrant a kidnapping charge.
There is no statute of limitations on kidnapping charges. When a person goes missing, the investigation can stay open for many years. If evidence shows the victim was kidnapped and the perpetrator is identified, they can be prosecuted no matter how much time has passed.
Defenses Against Kidnapping Charges
In order to convict the defendant in a kidnapping charge case, the prosecution must prove:
- The defendant was not lawfully authorized to be in control of the victim’s whereabouts
- The victim was held by force or in secret
- The victim was held against their will
- The defendant was in pursuit of money or valuables
- The defendant used a weapon to hold the victim
- The victim suffered injury and/or sexual assault
A kidnapping charge can be defended in a number of ways, according to the advice of the defendant’s attorney. The charge may have arisen due to a misunderstanding, a lack of intent, mental illness or insanity, or a lack of confirmation of the relationship with the defendant, such as the person in question being their own child. If the defense can prove the victim was not moved under duress, the defendant can not be convicted of kidnapping.
In the case of a kidnapping charge involving a minor under the age of 16, a defense could argue for the lesser charge under Massachusetts General Law Chapter 265 section 26C, and that the victim was not kidnapped, but enticed into an indoor or outdoor space with intent to violate other laws. The penalty for a conviction of enticing a minor under 16 is a maximum of 5 years in state prison or 2 ½ years in a house of correction, and/or a $5,000 fine.
Federal Kidnapping Charges
Under federal laws, kidnapping is similarly defined as in Massachusetts state law. Kidnapping occurs when a person is confined against their will, or moved to another location without their consent. Federal kidnapping charges may be brought if a parent moves their child out of state or over international borders without the other parent’s consent.
A kidnapping can be considered a federal case when the victim is not released within 24 hours, and it is presumed they have been taken to another state (with the exception of parental kidnapping). Federal laws against kidnapping were enacted in 1934 so that authorities could pursue a kidnapping suspect across state lines. Federal kidnapping cases may be investigated by the FBI or US Marshals, and in the case of international kidnapping, the State Department.
The penalties for federal kidnapping crimes include a minimum 20 year sentence if the victim was a child and the perpetrator was an adult not related to the victim. Kidnappings that result in the death of the victim are punishable by the death penalty, under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.
Kidnapping charges in Massachusetts fall under federal jurisdiction when:
- The perpetrator transports the victim out of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or out of the United States
- The victim is a foreign official or special guest of the country
- The victim is an official or employee of the United States Government and was kidnapped while discharging their duties
- The kidnapping took place within the maritime, aircraft or territorial jurisdiction
- A parental kidnapping that crosses international borders.
International Parental Kidnapping
Federal law generally does not apply to kidnapping a minor under the age of 16 unless the kidnapping crosses international borders. When a parent removes their child to a location out of the United States in order to violate the other parent’s rights of custody, it is considered international parental kidnapping under IPKCA (the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act), and is punishable by up to three years in prison. International parental kidnappings often occur when a couple is first separating or divorcing, or before there is a formal child custody agreement in place. International parental kidnapping can have a serious detrimental effect on the child. The parent may alter the child’s appearance or falsify their identity in order to avoid detection, and in attempts to keep the child hidden from authorities, the child is deprived of a normal social life.
International parental kidnapping cases can be difficult to prosecute as they require the cooperation of the foreign government where the child was taken. Some parents have attempted to recover their child kidnapped internationally by going outside of the legal system, such as traveling to an overseas location to try and take the child back. However, the parent risks violating foreign laws and can be prosecuted for those crimes overseas.
A kidnapping charge can carry serious penalties. An expert defense attorney will evaluate your case, explain the charges made against you and navigate the legal system on your behalf. Don’t jeopardize your freedom. If you are facing a kidnapping charge, contact us today for a free consultation.