Maine's Federal Kidnapping Charges Lawyer
Serving the Regions of Portland, Augusta, Saco, Bangor and Biddeford
While it still seems like the type of crime you hear about in movies or read in mystery books, kidnapping does exist, and it can be a federal crime, with very serious penalties. While many states have their own laws against kidnapping, certain circumstances could mean that you would face federal kidnapping charges, instead of state charges; or, even in addition to state charges.
This post is about the federal version of these laws, which you can find at 18 U.S.C. §1201. This law is also known as the Lindbergh Law, because it was passed following the historic kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh's son.
The act of kidnapping includes unlawfully taking someone away, or confining them, for a ransom or other reward.
In order to get convicted for the federal offense of kidnapping, the prosecutor in the case has to prove several things beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You transported someone across state lines,
- The person you brought over state lines did not consent to it,
- You held that person for ransom, reward, or some other gain, and
- You acted willingly and knowingly.
Any of these elements can be difficult for a prosecutor to prove in any given case, and often show holes that a good criminal defense attorney can exploit, and use to acquit of the charges.
For example, two of these elements require the prosecutor to show that there was a required mental state, which is difficult to prove.
Step 2 requires the prosecutor to prove that the person who was brought over state lines did not consent to being brought there. This requires the prosecutor to get inside someone's head, and show that they did not agree to being taken. Because no one, not even a good prosecutor, can read someone's mind, this requires using contextual clues to show that they didn't want to be taken across state lines. Oftentimes, the prosecutor finds these clues to be ambiguous, at best. Additionally, your defense attorney will be arguing that other clues show that there was consent. If the jury reasonably doubts that there wasn't consent, then you'll be acquitted.
Furthermore, step 4 requires the prosecutor to show that you acted “willingly and knowingly.” Like step 2, this requires the prosecutor to figure out what was going through your mind, at the time of the alleged crime. Also like step 2, they'll have to find contextual clues that show that you acted in this way, all while your defense attorney finds other contextual clues to show that you did not.
In the end, federal kidnapping charges are difficult to prove. That makes them easier for a solid criminal defense attorney to defend against, because of all of the different ways to raise a reasonable doubt in the jury's mind.
In order to be charged with the federal crime of kidnapping, or any federal crime, for that matter, the federal government needs to have jurisdiction over the conduct that underlies the crime. If the federal government has jurisdiction over that conduct, that means it has the power to regulate that conduct. If the federal government doesn't have jurisdiction, then you can only face state charges.
Because the federal government is one of “limited powers,” it needs to be expressly granted powers by the U.S. Constitution, in order to use them. Among these powers is the ability to regulate interstate activities, and the ability to oversee the U.S. Postal Service. This means that you can get charged with the federal crime of kidnapping, rather than just a state charge, if you cross state lines, or use the mail in the process.
Additionally, if more than 24 hours have passed since the person has been taken, it's presumed that they have been taken over state lines, allowing the federal government to open their own investigation.
The federal government also has jurisdiction to pursue kidnapping charges if the conduct takes place on federal territory, or if it involves a foreign official or federal employee.
Facing federal charges are similar to facing state charges in some ways, but different in others. Because the federal government generally only passes laws against severe crimes, often the penalties for violating a federal law leads to a higher penalty. Another difference is that, while state charges are heard before a state court, federal charges are heard by a federal one. Lastly, federal prosecutors typically have more resources to tap into, to investigate a crime.
Because it's a federal crime, a kidnapping conviction can lead to stiff penalties. Also, because it's a federal crime, kidnapping sentences are subject to the restrictions of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. These Guidelines state a range of possible jail terms and fines, which depend on the nature of the crime, whether there were any aggravating or mitigating factors, and your criminal history. You can read more about the Federal Sentencing Guidelines in this blog.
When it comes to the specific crime of kidnapping, however, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines recommend a minimum of 10 years of jail time, and a maximum of nearly 22 years. These numbers can also increase, if the person taken was injured, ransom was demanded, a dangerous weapon was used, the person taken was sexually exploited, or if other circumstances surround the conduct. Additionally, there are special penalties, if the person who was taken was under 18, and you were over that age, and either were not immediately related to them, or had your parental rights with them terminated by a final court order. If this is the case, the minimum jail sentence jumps up to 20 years.
Federal kidnapping charges are serious. A conviction can lead to a lengthy prison term, and a serious criminal history, after you're allowed out. Preventing a conviction could be the most important thing that you do. Hiring a rock-solid criminal defense attorney is the best way that you can do this. Call the office of William T. Bly at (207) 571-8146.