Kidnapping is defined as the unlawful act of taking and transporting a person against their will by means of force, fear and/or intimidation. The law in the United States dates back to the highly publicized Lindbergh baby abduction case in the 1930s.
The Federal Kidnapping Act authorizes the FBI to investigate kidnappings because victims could be taken across state lines, which would constitute a federal crime. However, most states also recognize different types of kidnapping crimes and have laws and penalties in place.
Which leads to our question today: Can you get life in prison for kidnapping?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
- Thousands of people are reported missing every day
- There are varying degrees of kidnapping
- famous kidnapping case
Thousands of people are reported missing every day
Missing persons statistics are recorded in the National Crime Information Center’s Uniform Crime Report. But statistics on kidnapping are hard to come by because kidnapping crimes are not recorded separately and data are hard to come by.
In NCIC’s 2010 report, they stated that more than 65,000 people were classified as “persons over 21” who disappeared due to safety concerns. Data from around that time showed that roughly 2,300 Americans were reported missing each day, including adults and children.
Only a fraction of these numbers are kidnappings by strangers or stereotypical kidnappings for ransom. The federal government reported in 2001 that there were 840,279 missing persons cases in the United States. Except for 50,000 cases, the rest were cases of missing minors under the age of 18.
The National Center for Missing Adults tracks approximately 48,000 active cases at any one time. Many of these cases have been linked to mental health issues and drug addiction. Another important subgroup is older citizens with dementia.
In the case of minors, approximately half of these 800,000 cases involved runaways. Another 200,000 were classified as domestic abductions related to custody disputes and domestic violence. The vast majority of kidnappings in the United States are parental kidnappings.
There are only about 100 cases per year of underage victims being trafficked by strangers. About two-thirds of the victims were between the ages of 12 and 17, and 80 percent were white females. In nearly 90 percent of these cases, the kidnappers were men, who sexually assaulted their victims in about half of these cases.
There are varying degrees of kidnapping
If you take someone across state lines, you could be charged with federal kidnapping. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 — aka the infamous Clinton/Biden crime bill — effectively reinstated the death penalty for federal kidnapping crimes that resulted in the death of anyone.
Interstate kidnapping, international kidnapping and extortion cases are relatively rare, but that’s what these federal laws are designed to do. As the death penalty is the harshest punishment, the penalties associated with ransom cases, hostage-taking and international parental kidnapping vary (up to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole).
Most kidnappings are prosecuted as State crimes. Under national kidnapping laws, there are usually varying degrees of kidnapping offenses based on severity. Not every state is the same, but most have different categories.
For example, some states have first-degree kidnapping or aggravated kidnapping, which typically requires the kidnapper to inflict bodily harm, sexual assault, or place the victim at serious risk of harm. Second-degree kidnapping does not involve sexual or violent assault or causing the victim to suffer harm.
Most states have punitive kidnapping laws, ranging from five years to life in prison. So, the answer to today’s blog post is definitely “yes”. In fact, if someone is found guilty of kidnapping, it is almost guaranteed that they will be sentenced.
First-degree or aggravated kidnapping usually carries a sentence of 20 years or more, while second-degree kidnapping carries a minimum sentence of five years or more.
It is almost unheard of for someone to be found guilty of kidnapping instead of going to jail. However, I should point out that some states do not have laws prohibiting parental kidnapping. So if one parent takes their child without the other parent’s consent or knowledge, it may not be a crime, depending on the state.
famous kidnapping case
In 1874, four-year-old Charley Ross gained widespread attention when he was kidnapped for ransom, the first American to receive widespread public attention. However, the main suspect was shot dead before police identified the kidnapper, and Ross was never found.
In 1972, a man named Kenneth Parnell kidnapped 7-year-old Steven Stayner on his way home from school. Parnell raised Steven as his own son for seven years until he kidnapped another child, Timmy White, in 1980. The two boys started to escape and Parnell was found guilty of two counts of kidnapping and sentenced to seven years in prison.
He served five years in prison before being released, but was arrested again in 2004 for trying to coerce his caretaker into buying him a four-year-old. He was convicted and imprisoned until his death.
In 1974, 19-year-old Hearst heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped from her apartment by left-wing guerrillas and engaged in a bank robbery. She was allegedly a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, but was still sentenced to 35 years in prison. She served just 22 months before being released and was fully pardoned by President Bill Clinton in 2001.
In 1981, Adam Walsh was kidnapped from a Sears department store in Hollywood Mall, Florida, and later found murdered.As a result, his father, John Walsh, became an advocate for missing and exploited children and would later go on to host America’s Most Wanted.
In 1993, 12-year-old Polly Klaas was kidnapped by Richard Allen Davis and later strangled to death. He was convicted of first-degree murder and kidnapping and sentenced to death. After the murder, Klaas’ father, Mark, became a children’s advocate and founded the KlaasKids Foundation.
Klaas’ kidnapping and murder changed the Cal Highway Patrol APB system as they upgraded to ensure announcements were broadcast through all police channels through the centralized 911 dispatch system. It also led to California’s Three Strikes Act of 1994.
Did you know that the vast majority of kidnappings involve a parent or family member? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: America's Missing Kidnapped children make headlines, but abduction is rare in U.S. Kidnapping Penalty Provision The Story of Charley Ross