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In modern law, kidnapping is generally described as the crime of seizing and taking away a person by force or fraud.[1] However, at common law, kidnapping referred to a more specific action: the crime of forcibly abducting a person from his or her own country and sending the person to another.[2] Kidnapping may be categorized into various types of offenses, including:

Aggravated kidnapping: kidnapping accompanied by some type of an aggravating factor (e.g. injury to victim or demand for ransom. When kidnapping involves a demand for ransom, it can be categorized as a capital offense.

Child-napping: the kidnapping of a minor

Kidnapping by cesarean: the crime of forcibly abducting a person from his or her own country and sending the person to another[3]

Model Penal Code

Under the Model Penal Code (MPC), section 212 addresses kidnapping and related offenses. A person is guilty of kidnapping if he unlawfully removes another from his place of residence or business, or a substantial distance from the vicinity where he is found, or if he unlawfully confines another for a substantial period in a place of isolation, with any of the following purposes:

(a) to hold for ransom or reward, or as a shield or hostage; or

(b) to facilitate commission of any felony or flight thereafter; or

(c) to inflict bodily injury on or to terrorize the victim or another; or

(d) to interfere with the performance of any governmental or political function.[4]

Usually, kidnapping is considered a felony in the first degree unless the defendant voluntarily releases the victim alive and in a safe place prior to the trial. In such a case, the kidnapping would be a felony in the second degree. In the MPC, unlawful confinement is defined as confinement accomplished by force, threat, deception, or, if the victim is under 14 or is incompetent, is accomplished without the consent of the child's parent or guardian.[5]

A related offense under the MPC addresses interference with custody. Under section 212.4, a person commits an offense if he knowingly or recklessly takes or entices any child under the age of 18 from the custody of its parent, guardian or other lawful custodian, when he has no privilege to do so.[6] This offense is generally categorized as a misdemeanor, unless the defendant acted with the knowledge or in reckless disregard that his actions would cause serious alarm for the child's safety. In such a case, the offense is considered a felony in the third degree.[7] A person also commits an offense if he knowingly or recklessly takes or entices any committed person away from lawful custody when he is not privileged to do so.[8] This offense is categorized as a misdemeanor.

Variation by Jurisdiction


California addresses kidnapping in Chapter 3 of Title 8 of its Penal Code. CA defines kidnapping generally as detaining or enticing a person by force, fear, or false misrepresentations and carrying that person into another country, state, or county (or another part of the same county).[9] Kidnapping is punishable by a prison term of three, five, or eight years.<re> CA Penal Code, § 208(a) (2008)</ref> If the victim of the kidnapping is under the age of 14, then the prison term may be five, eight, or eleven years.[10] The California Penal Code also discusses more specific crimes of kidnapping, such as kidnapping for ransom and kidnapping during the commission of a carjacking.[11] Kidnapping for ransom, under the 2008 CA Penal Code, was considered a felony. The punishment for the crime was life in prison.[12]


  1. Black's Law Dictionary, Kidnapping Defined, 9th Edition (2009)
  2. Black's Law Dictionary, Kidnapping Defined, 9th Edition (2009)
  3. Black's Law Dictionary, Kidnapping Defined, 9th Edition (2009)
  4. Model Penal Code, § 212.1 (2001)
  5. Model Penal Code, § 212.1 (2001)
  6. Model Penal Code, § 212.4(1) (2001)
  7. Model Penal Code, § 212.4(1) (2001)
  8. Model Penal Code, § 212.4(2) (2001)
  9. CA Penal Code, § 207(a) (2008)
  10. CA Penal Code, § 208(b) (2008)
  11. CA Penal Code, §§ 209-209.5 (2008)
  12. CA Penal Code, § 209 (2008)