Is Kidnapping a Federal Crime?

Is kidnapping a federal crime? Skilled attorneys from Scrofano Law PC in Virginia, Northern Virginia, DC and Maryland provide information about this and more. Contact us for answers to your legal questions.

The Crime of Kidnapping

Kidnapping refers to the illegal taking, detaining, holding, or carrying away of a person by force or fraud; or the unlawful seizing and detaining of a person without their consent.


Federal Definition of Kidnapping Law (18 U.S.C. 1201)

Kidnapping is addressed as a crime in 18 U.S.C. 1201, stating that any person confined, seized, Inveigled, decoyed, kidnapped, abducted, or carried away and held for reward or ransom except in the case of a minor by the parent in several cases mentioned in the law as well, shall be subject to punishment by imprisonment for any term of years or even for life and, if it results in the death of any person, the perpetrator shall be subject to punishment by death or life imprisonment.

Federal law does not apply if a person is detained in an interstate commerce operation for less than 72 hours and is not released.

Is Kidnapping a Federal Crime?


Generally, kidnappings are state offenses. Certain circumstances can make them criminal under federal law, however. For example, if the victim was transported outside of the state for at least 24 hours in interstate or foreign commerce. Moreover, kidnappings involving ransom money, hostage-taking, and international parental kidnapping are all federal offenses. Federal crimes are often committed across state lines using methods and facilities, such as the mail and banking systems.

Additionally, kidnappings occurring in certain maritime or aircraft jurisdictions of the United States may qualify as federal kidnappings and be prosecuted in federal court.

Additionally, a federal court may prosecute a kidnapping related to a United States, or foreign government official kidnapped in the course of performing their duties as a government official or in the course of acting in that capacity.

There are several instances in which kidnapping may be accompanied by other crimes, such as assault or sex crimes. If you are facing such charges, you should seek the assistance of a sex crimes lawyer from Scrofano Law.

When Did Kidnapping Become a Federal Crime?

In response to the notorious kidnapping and death of Charles Lindbergh’s son, the Federal Kidnapping Act was passed in 1932. It is sometimes called the Little Lindbergh Law or the Lindbergh Law. It enabled federal law enforcement to intervene and apprehend kidnappers after they had crossed state lines with their prey.

As a result of amendments to the act in 1934, parents who abduct their own minor children are exempt from penalties in terms of the Act. It also permitted the execution of a death sentence if the child was not released unharmed.

If the Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigation prosecuting alleged kidnappers learns that the alleged kidnapper took the child from legal custody without the other parent’s consent. As a result, federal law enforcement is given the go-ahead to file a kidnapping charge.


Kidnapping Law in Washington State

Washington state has put forth legislation criminalizing the act of kidnapping and acts of the like in Chapter 9A.40 RCW. A conviction carries significant fines and prison time.

Each state defines the elements of kidnapping differently, and the language of its laws governs it. Kidnapping, however, consists of two elements: the actual taking of the victim and the intent to abduct them. 

Majorly, abduction involves the use of force or trickery. The criminal abduction or kidnapping of another person also requires the seizing, detaining, or detention of that person.

What Is the Penalty for Kidnapping?


It is critical to understand that kidnapping has significant repercussions. According to 18 U.S.C. Section 1201, a federal kidnapping conviction carries a sentence of 20 years to life in prison. The sentence will be based on the circumstances of the case, as well as any prior convictions. The death penalty or life in prison could apply if the kidnapping results in the death of a victim.

It is possible to receive at least 20 years in prison for federal kidnapping charges involving minors if:

  • The kidnapping victim under 18 years of age

  • The kidnapper is over 18 years old

  • The kidnapper is not the victim’s parent, grandparent, sibling, aunt, uncle, or anyone else who has legal custody of the child


What Is International Parental Kidnapping?

An international parental kidnapping is a separate federal crime under 18 U.S.C. Section 1204. It involves a parent or someone related to the victim taking the child away from their other parent or legal guardian.

Under Section 1204, individuals with parental rights cannot take their children younger than 16 years outside the United States. This offense carries a 3-year maximum punishment in a federal prison except in cases where:

  • The abducting parent followed a court order under the UCCJEA.

  • Abducting parents fled domestic violence or took children due to circumstances beyond their control. The taking parent made reasonable attempts to contact the left-behind parent within 24 hours and return the child as soon as practicable.

Lawyer for Federal Kidnapping Charges


Kidnapping is a heinous crime that can carry one of the harshest punishments in the country. You might be able to prevent such punishments by hiring an experienced lawyer who will vigorously defend you.

Consider hiring a federal criminal lawyer from Scrofano Law P.C. who will provide information about this and more. Contact us today for answers to your legal questions!


Frequently Asked Questions (F.A.Q.s)

Is It a Federal Crime Not to Report Kidnapping?

Title 18, section 4 of the United States Code addresses the Misprision of a Felony. If a person conceals and does not notify the appropriate authorities of an crime being committed as soon as possible, they may be fined or imprisoned for up to three years.


Is Kidnapping a Felony or a Misdemeanor?

Every state in the United States considers kidnapping to be a serious crime over a misdemeanor. Since the severity of felonies varies by state, the exact repercussions of this crime will vary slightly from one jurisdiction to the next.


What’s the Difference Between False Imprisonment and Kidnapping?

False detainees can sue for damages. False imprisonment occurs when someone unlawfully confines someone without their consent, violating their right to be free from mobility restraints.


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