Kidnapping is a serious crime that is prohibited by both federal and state laws. It is commonly defined as the taking of a person against his or her will, or restricting that person to a confined space. Although kidnapping is a crime that frequently receives a great deal of media attention, relatively few stereotypical kidnappings involving abductions by strangers take place each year. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, although several hundred thousand children are reported missing each year, only slightly more than 100 are kidnapped by someone the child does not know. Most abductions are the result of conduct by family members or friends. Although kidnapping of adults may also occur, there are no current statistics on the number of adult abductions that happen each year.

Elements of Kidnapping

Kidnapping can occur in two circumstances. First, it may arise when an individual is removed, against his or her will, from a location and taken to another location. This makes the transportation of the individual an essential element of the crime, and the movement must be more than something slight or inconsequential. However, kidnapping may also occur when an individual is not transported to a new location, but is instead confined against his or her will in a certain space. If the victim is restrained in a manner that restricts his or her freedom of movement, this is enough to constitute kidnapping. Courts have even recognized the crime when a person is confined to his or her own home, without the ability to leave.

Some states add an additional requirement that the perpetrator of the kidnapping must have had an unlawful motive for the crime, such as for extortion or ransom, to facilitate a crime, or to avoid an ongoing legal issue, such as in the case of a custody dispute. In many states, parental kidnapping is an issue of special statutory concern, since parents in ongoing divorce proceedings or child custody issues may attempt to take their child to another state without the permission of all parties involved. In order to diminish this problem and avoid conflicting custody laws, most states have now enacted statutes that adopt the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA) and the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA), which provide guidance on determining which states have jurisdiction over custodial disputes, and when the child custody decisions of one state must be respected by others.

Federal Kidnapping Act

In response to the high-profile kidnapping of the son of Charles Lindbergh, one of the famous first air pilots, the United States has also adopted the Federal Kidnapping Act in order to improve the federal response to the crime of kidnapping. This act was passed to improve federal investigation and enforcement of kidnappings once an abduction has crossed state lines. Under the Act, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is charged with investigating and stopping kidnapping in the United States. The Act makes kidnapping a very serious felony, with jail time of up to 20 years or more. It also allows for the prosecution of parents who kidnap their children by taking them abroad without the permission of a spouse or other guardian.