Is Kidnapping Always a Federal Crime?

Kidnapping is not always a federal crime. Depending on the facts of the case, the offense could fall under federal or state jurisdiction.

Generally, kidnapping involves using force, coercion, or other deceptive means to move a person from one location to another. While we might associate that movement with transporting the person across state lines, making it a federal crime, that's not always the situation.

In some cases, the victim could be confined or transported within the state. For the most part, because they have not gone from one state to another, the offense would more than likely fall under the jurisdiction of the state where the kidnapping occurred. Still, in some circumstances, even if the offense does not cross state lines, the federal government could get involved with the investigation.

We'll explore federal kidnapping laws in-depth, discussing how they compare to Ohio's and when they are applicable.

If you have been accused of kidnapping – whether at the state or federal level – contact Patituce & Associates at (440) 709-8088 for the defense you need.

What Makes Kidnapping a Federal Crime?

Kidnapping was made a federal offense in 1932 following the abduction and murder of Charles Lindbergh's son. At the time, no federal kidnapping law existed, limiting federal authorities' ability to investigate the offense once it crossed state lines. The Federal Kidnapping Act (also referred to as the Lindbergh Law or the Little Lindbergh Law) improved the federal government's authority to investigate abductions that affected interstate commerce.

Under 18 U.S.C. § 1201, an individual commits kidnapping if they do any of the following to another person against that person's will:

  • Seize,
  • Confine,
  • Inveigle,
  • Decoy,
  • Kidnap,
  • Abduct, or
  • Carry away.

Additionally, the individual who committed the offense must have done so to hold the person for ransom or some other type of benefit.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, kidnapping falls under federal jurisdiction when it:

  • Involves the victim or the offender being transported or traveling through state lines or country borders, or it involves the use of anything that affects interstate or foreign commerce, such as the U.S. Postal Service.
  • Occurs in the special maritime or territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.
  • Occurs within special aircraft jurisdiction of the U.S.
  • Involves a foreign official or internationally protected person.
  • Involves a federal officer or employee performing their official duties.
  • Involves a parent taking a child 16 years of age or younger across international borders without permission.

The federal kidnapping law also provides that the federal government can get involved in the investigation even if no evidence exists that the offense has affected interstate or foreign commerce. This happens when the offender has not safely returned the victim unharmed within 24 hours after the act. The law gives the government the right to assume that, in this circumstance, the offender or victim has likely crossed state lines.

Still, even before the 24-hour period has elapsed, a federal kidnapping investigation can begin. In either case, if it later turns out that state lines were not crossed, the matter may be handled by the state government.

What's Considered Kidnapping in Ohio?

Ohio's kidnapping law also concerns instances when an individual has taken another person against their will.

The statute specifically provides that it's unlawful for someone to take a person from one place to another or restrain that person's liberty using:

  • Force,
  • Threat,
  • Deception, or
  • Any means if the victim is 13 years of age or under or mentally incompetent.

What makes such acts kidnapping, as opposed to abduction, is the offender's purpose for committing them.

Ohio Revised Code § 2905.01 says that unlawfully transporting or restraining another person is kidnapping when it's done to:

  • Hold the individual as ransom or as a shield or hostage,
  • Further or flee from a felony,
  • Terrorize or physically harm the victim,
  • Engage in sexual activity without the victim's consent,
  • Prevent or block a government function or to influence the actions or inactions of a government authority, or
  • Force the victim to perform labor or services against their will.

How Much Time Does Kidnapping Carry?

Kidnapping is a serious offense – whether it falls under state or federal jurisdiction. As a federal crime, it is a Class A felony. A person convicted could be imprisoned for any number of years up to life. If the kidnapping resulted in the death of any person, the offender could be sentenced to death or life in prison.

In Ohio, kidnapping is generally a first-degree felony, which carries a penalty of up to 16.5 years in prison. However, if the offender released the victim unharmed, the offense is a second-degree felony, which is punishable by imprisonment for a maximum of 12 years.

If the offender had a sexual motivation for the kidnapping and the victim was under 13 years of age, the offense is also charged as a first-degree felony, but the offender could be sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in prison and a maximum of life. Yet, if the offender released the victim unharmed, the minimum term of imprisonment is reduced to 10 years – the maximum is still life.

Does the FBI Handle Kidnapping Investigations?

Whether the FBI will investigate a kidnapping depends on the situation. For crimes falling under Ohio jurisdiction, investigators from local or state law enforcement agencies will likely handle it. For kidnappings involving children, older people, or people with special needs, Ohio's Bureau of Criminal Investigation's Special Victims Unit will assist in the investigation. The Child Abduction Response Team (CART) will advise in matters where children were kidnapped or abducted.

For the most part, the FBI will only step in when the crime falls under federal jurisdiction. However, as noted earlier, if the victim is not returned unharmed within 24 hours, the agency will investigate even if it's not certain that the offense crossed state lines. The FBI may also handle kidnapping cases involving children under 12 years of age. In situations other than those mentioned, the FBI may aid local and state law enforcement agencies but not fully investigate.

What Should I Do If Accused of Kidnapping?

A conviction for state or federal kidnapping can have serious consequences. If you've been charged, retain legal representation immediately. A lawyer can help fight the allegations and seek a favorable outcome, such as dropped or reduced charges, a not guilty verdict, or lesser sentencing.

At Patituce & Associates, we understand that kidnapping accusations can arise because of mistakes of fact or any number of reasons. We are here to ensure your voice is heard and protect your rights and future.

To schedule a consultation with a member of our Cleveland team, please call us at (440) 709-8088 or submit an online contact form today.