In criminal law, kidnapping is the taking away of a person against the person’s will. Kidnapping usually involves the intention to hold the person in false imprisonment, which is defined as a confinement without legal authority.
Kidnapping is usually done by force, but sometimes fraud and deception are used to lead a victim away willingly. Kidnapping may be done for the purpose of obtaining a ransom or as part of another crime such as a robbery or extortion. Kidnappings are common in connection with child custody disputes, abduction by sexual predators, and sometimes in cases of government protests. It is also becoming more popular as a terrorist act, where victims are taken and held in captivity, tortured and eventually killed in a very public manner.
There are several different types of kidnapping outside of the normal definition. An “express kidnapping” is used most frequently in Latin America. In this form, a person is taken hostage and held for a relatively small sum of money that they know the family can and will likely pay to have their loved one released.
A tiger kidnapping is used by criminals to force someone else into doing something. An example might be, taking a customer hostage to force a bank manager to open the vault.
What is the punishment for kidnapping?
The laws and charges associated with the crime of kidnapping vary from state to state. The actual length of the prison sentence may depend on such factors as:
- The length of time the victim was held against their will
- The amount of physical harm or torture inflicted on the victim, and the severity of such harm
- Transportation of the victim or victims across state lines
- Other crimes committed during the act of kidnapping such as burglary, theft, assault, battery, carjacking, murder, etc.
- Demands for ransom or reward in exchange for the safe return of the person
To combat kidnapping, many states use the Amber Alert program. The AMBER Alert Program is a partnership between law-enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation agencies, and the wireless industry. As part of the program, an urgent bulletin is distributed on television, radios and on electronic road signs in the most serious child-abduction cases. The goal of an AMBER Alert is to solicit assistance from the community at large in the search and recovery of the child.
The AMBER Alert system is used in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Indian country, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and 22 other countries. As of March 2018, a total of 924 children had been successfully recovered through the program. Visit the website to earn about the United States Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Amber Alert Program.
- National Center for Missing and Exploited Children – The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is the national clearinghouse for issues related to missing and sexually exploited children.
If you have any questions about kidnapping, please post a comment below. For more information, see the definition for false imprisonment in our Glossary of Investigation Terms.