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Defending Kidnapping Charges in California

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Jan 14, 2021

Review of Kidnapping Charges Under California Penal Code 207 and 209 PC

California Penal Code 207 describes the crime of kidnapping as moving someone a substantial distance, against their will, by use of force or fear.

PC 207 is often called “simple kidnapping” and a felony crime punishable by up to 8 years in prison.

Defending Kidnapping Charges in California
Kidnaping is a serious crime in California and described as moving a person a substantial distance, against their will, using force or fear.

A related offense of Penal Code 209 PC aggravated kidnapping can be charged when a person kidnaps someone for:

  • ransom or reward, or
  • to commit another crime, such as rape or carjacking.

PC 209 is the more serious charge than PC 207 simple kidnapping and punishable by a sentence of life in prison.

To give readers a better understanding of California's kidnapping laws, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are providing an overview below.

Example of infamous kidnapping case 

The crime of kidnapping conjures the infamous Depression-era kidnapping of the twenty-month-old son of the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh.

The kidnapper used a ladder to abduct the infant from his crib on the second floor of the Lindbergh home.

Swarms of police and citizens were unable to locate the infant or solve the crime until after the family had paid a $50,000 ransom and the kidnapper had left the murdered infant in a shallow roadside grave.

A Trial of the Century convicted a German immigrant of the murder based on evidence of the ladder, ladder design, ransom money, and other items recovered from the defendant's home.

Federal Kidnapping Charges - 18 U.S.C. § 1201

As a result, Congress enacted the Federal Kidnapping Act, known then as the Little Lindbergh Law, still very much on the books today.

The common law defines kidnapping as:

  • "unlawful restraint of someone's liberty by force or show of force for movement to another location to conceal."

Because Congress enacted the Federal Kidnapping Act under its commerce-clause authority, the federal version of the kidnapping crime requires restraint for transport across state lines or out of the country.

The crime's federal version also requires a ransom or reward purpose. Federal kidnapping convictions carry a stiff penalty of twenty years of imprisonment or more under aggravating circumstances.

California State Kidnapping Charges

State kidnapping charges are much more common than federal charges because they do not require the victim's movement across state lines.

California Penal Code 207 PC defines kidnapping as:

  • "forcibly or by fear taking, holding, detaining, or arresting the victim, and carrying the victim into another country, state, county, or into another part of the same county."

Thus, the victim's movement under restraint is enough for the state version of the kidnapping crime, even if the movement crosses no particular jurisdictional lines.

California State Kidnapping Charges
California state kidnapping charges are far more common than federal charges because the victim doesn't have to be moved across state lines.

Using force or fear is an element of the kidnapping crime. If the victim is an unresisting child, PC 207 defines the force as only that necessary to take and carry away the child.

In other words, kidnapping requires no battery crime and no harmful contact. Threats of harm, or in the case of an unresisting child, simply picking up or otherwise carrying away the child, is enough force for the kidnapping crime.

Penal Code 207 does, however, permit a person to restrain and move a child to protect the child from imminent harm. 

California broadens the reach of its kidnapping crime to include similarly reprehensible activities. Penal Code 207 defines as kidnapping each of these additional acts:

  • enticing a child under age fourteen into moving, for any lewd act;
  • enticing another out of state for involuntary servitude; or
  • violating the kidnap laws of another state as to a victim in this state.

False Imprisonment – Penal Code 236 PC

California law also makes the false imprisonment of another a crime, relating closely to kidnapping.

False imprisonment involves unlawfully detaining another, whether in a false arrest or similar circumstances. The false-imprisonment crime, defined in Penal Code 236 PC as the:

  • “unlawful violation of the personal liberty of another.”

It does not require the victim's movement, distinguishing the crime from kidnapping.

False imprisonment of a hostage to avoid arrest is defined under Penal Code 210.5, and another California crime closely related to kidnapping. Other related crimes include:

  • Penal Code 210 PC – kidnapping connected to extortion,
  • Penal Code 278 PC – child abduction,
  • Penal Code 278.5 PC – deprivation of child custody.

What are the Penalties for Kidnapping in California?

If you are convicted for kidnapping, the penalties are severe. Simple kidnapping is punishable by:

  • three, five, or eight years in a California state prison, and
  • a fine up to $10,000;
  • Penal Code 208 PC imposes an overlapping but potentially greater penalty of five, eight, or eleven years for kidnapping a child under age fourteen, unless the matter involved a parent or other custodian taking the child, in which case the enhanced penalty does not apply;
  • PC 208(c) further states that if the court grants probation, it must require that the defendant serve that probation confined for twelve months in the county jail, unless the court expressly finds unusual interests warranting a lesser penalty. Some incarceration for a kidnapping conviction is very likely to occur.

Enhanced Kidnapping Charges in California

California law enhances the charge for an aggravated kidnapping.

Penal Code 209 defines an aggravated kidnapping as one in which the kidnapper intends the kidnapping to be for ransom, reward, or extortion.

If convicted of aggravated kidnapping, the penalties include:

  • life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, if the kidnap victim suffers death or bodily harm, or if the confinement subjects the victim to substantial risk of death;
  • aggravated kidnapping's penalty is life imprisonment with the possibility of parole if death, injury, or death risk are absent.
  • anyone who aids or abets aggravated kidnapping of the ransom kind subject to the same penalties.

California Penal Code 209 PC elevates the crime to aggravated kidnapping when done for:

  • Penal Code 261 PC - rape,
  • Penal Code 262 PC – spousal rape,
  • Penal Code 286 PC - sodomy,
  • Penal Code 287 PC – oral copulation by force,
  • Penal Code 288 PC – lewd acts with a minor,
  • Penal Code 211 PC – robbery,
  • Penal Code 518 PC – extortion.

The statute punishes aggravated kidnapping of this kind with life imprisonment with the possibility of parole.

Kidnapping During a Carjacking – Penal Code 209.5

California law also increases the potential kidnapping penalty when the allegation is that the defendant committed a kidnapping during a carjacking.

Kidnapping During a Carjacking – Penal Code 209.5
Penal Code 209.5 kidnapping during a carjacking carries a sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Penal Code 209.5 imposes a sentence of life, although with the possibility of parole.

The California Department of Corrections explains that the convicted defendant is eligible for parole on a life sentence after the defendant has served the minimum number of years on the sentence imposed.

Thus, if the carjack-kidnapping sentence was fifteen years to life, parole would be possible after fifteen years.

Parole, though, is discretionary with the parole board, so that a carjack-kidnapping conviction may mean imprisonment until death.

How Can I Fight PC 207 Kidnapping Charges?

Where evidence warrants it, our skilled Los Angeles criminal lawyers may defend kidnapping charges with a variety of common defenses:

  • insufficient movement to qualify as kidnapping,
  • victim gave consent for movement,
  • false allegation,
  • mistaken identification.

We might be able to challenge the factual allegations.

Mistaken identifications and observations, especially of an actor's intent, and poor witness recall, can be common.

So, too, can witness bias and interest. Evidence may also support a defense of consent. People often travel willingly together, later regretting the travel.

A defendant also has due-process rights to defend kidnapping charges. Those rights include a right against unreasonable search and seizure and right to counsel, the violation of which may lead to suppression of evidence.

Criminal procedure offers preliminary examination, discovery, motion to suppress, motion to dismiss, and other processes we can use to acquire exonerating evidence and challenge unsupported allegations and charges.

Best Defense for California Kidnapping Charges

Kidnapping is a very serious charge, having severe penalties and collateral consequences.

Those who face any kidnapping charge, but especially a federal charge or aggravated state charge, should retain our experienced Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers.

Best Defense for California Kidnapping Charges
Contact Eisner Gorin LLP to learn how we can defend you against kidnapping charges.

We offer a skilled and aggressive defense and know how to minimize conviction risk and maximize positive outcomes.

Through prefiling intervention, we may be able to persuade the prosecutor from filing formal criminal charges before court.

Eisner Gorin LLP is a top-ranked criminal defense law firm representing people throughout Southern California courts, including LA County, Orange County, Ventura County, Riverside, and San Bernardino.

We are located at 1999 Avenue of the Stars, 11th Fl., Los Angeles, CA 90067.

Our main office is next to the Van Nuys Court at 14401 Sylvan St #112 Van Nuys, CA 91401.

Contact out office for an initial consultation at (310) 328-3776.

About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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