Kidnapping can be prosecuted as a federal case or by the state in which it occurs; depending on the individual situation of each singular incidence and the circumstances relating to the charge. Due to the passage of the federal kidnapping statute (Source: The FBI), the federal government can establish jurisdiction after a period of twenty-four hours if a person is believed or verified to have been taken and is not returned unharmed within that period of time. The word "unharmed" is not clearly defined. This statute was passed by Congress in 1932 as a result of the Baby Lindbergh case and allows the federal government to take the lead in a case if there is even only a suspicion that the victim may have been taken across state lines. This new law was also responsible for the capture of the infamous gangster John Dillinger, and for the first time gave the FBI the authorization to carry guns and make arrests.
Many believe that the Baby Lindbergh case which dominated the headlines in the early 1930's was the reason the law was enacted by Congress, and as much as this may be true in conclusiveness, ironically, the bill had been introduced to Congress by Representative John Joseph Cochrane and Senator Roscoe Conkling Patterson both from Missouri, three months before the famous abduction took place in New Jersey.
The elder Lindberg, a U.S. Air Mail pilot rose to celebrity status when he became the first person to fly from New York's suburb of Garden City on Long Island to Paris, France, landing his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis at Le Bourget Field in 1927. The distance of roughly 3,600 miles, mostly over the Atlantic Ocean was unprecedented, and won the Orteig Prize from the Aero Club of America after many failed attempts by other aviators. Being a U.S. Army Air Corps Reserve officer he was also awarded the Country's highest military adornment, the Medal of Honor. He became the hero of many Americans for his efforts and gained great popularity.
In 1932, Lindbergh's 20-month-old son, Charles Jr. was abducted from the family home in East Amwell, New Jersey. The highly publicized case became the focus of National attention during the investigation and throughout the trial. Breaking the case down in short, after a two year investigation, evidence led authorities to Bruno Richard Hauptmann who was arrested, convicted and sentenced to death. His sentence was fulfilled by electrocution on April 3, 1936. Charles Lindbergh Jr.'s body was found less than five miles from where the removal from his home took place on May 12, 1932, just two months after the abduction occurred.
Before the Lindbergh case, kidnapping laws were originally adopted from the common laws of England and interpreted as the unauthorized transport of an individual originating in one country and terminating in another without the person's consent. In the United States through the early part of the twentieth century, kidnapping did not include interstate transport as a part of the federal law. Around that time, the states began to redefine kidnapping laws, most notably excluding the condition of interstate transport. However the federal statute wasn't amended until the Act of Congress in 1932.
Today, the federal government will have jurisdiction over a charge of kidnapping when the alleged kidnapping crosses state lines or the victim is intentionally taken to or from a foreign country. It also will hold jurisdiction if the victim is abducted within the realm of US airspace as well as the seas and territories that are under the dominion of the United States Government. The kidnapping of a foreign official or an internationally protected person such as a diplomat, or an official guest of the United States as well as an abduction of an employee of the federal government will also be tried as a federal offense. *An official guest is defined as "a citizen or national of a foreign country present in the United States as an official guest of the government of the United States pursuant to designation as such by the Secretary of State". Source: United States Department of Justice.
Federal jurisdiction will also apply in matters of international parental kidnapping (18 U.S.C. § 1204) when the abducted individual is a youth under sixteen years of age and has been removed with the purpose of obstructing the legal exercise of parental rights. However, it does not apply to matters concerning the taking of minor children by a parent traveling from one state to another within the borders of the United States unless the parental rights had been terminated (TOP) by an absolute order of the court.
State law (Florida), outlines kidnapping as the confinement, abduction, detention or imprisonment of another individual against their will without a legal right implemented by a forcible, secret, or threatening manner as well as by the use of coercion. The perpetrator must also demonstrate the intent to detain the victim for ransom or other pecuniary compensation or use them as a hostage or a shield against the efforts of recovery by law enforcement. The allegation will also be charged if the offender commits or expedites the performance of any separate felony or inflicts bodily harm or terrorizes or intimidates the object of the crime or another individual associated with commission of the act. Interfering with the presentation of a political or governmental function as a byproduct of a kidnapping can also be cause for charging the offense. The law also relates to a minor under the age of thirteen years against their will without the authorization of the individual's parent(s) or legal guardian(s).
Kidnapping is a first degree felony and a Level 9 offense severity ranking under Florida's Criminal Punishment Code, Source: Florida Department of Corrections.
Discovering that you, a friend, or member of your family has been named the object of an ongoing investigation relating to a kidnapping charge can be a traumatic experience and if charges have been filed the ultimate results can be life altering. Whether led by the federal government or State of Florida the prosecution will try to prove their case using the evidence obtained through their investigation and testimony of all parties involved. A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who is an expert in both state and federal cases relating to this type of allegation will be a strong advocate to challenge evidence presented by the prosecution. As a former Assistant State Attorney and a former Assistant United States Attorney I can bring the expertise needed to deliver the best possible outcome in cases such as these.
There are many defenses for a kidnapping charge such as incidental confinement and of course the presumption of innocence where guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecution. There are also instances where an abduction of a child occurred when an accused parent believed that a child may have been in imminent danger without prompt action being taken. A jury will weigh all evidence presented before making their decision and returning a verdict. Additionally, plea agreements can also be explored when the evidence does not point in the favor of the accused.
The penalties for a conviction can range from a minimum sentence of four years in prison up to life in prison depending on the individual circumstances of each case. It can also become a capital offense if the abduction led to aggravating circumstances. The optimum result for a conviction for a charge of kidnapping is a lifetime probationary sentence.
If you are accused of this crime call my office at the earliest possible moment to discuss a strategy to fight this allegation whether pursued by the federal government or the State of Florida. I can't stress strongly enough how important it is to acquire proper counsel at the earliest possible phase of an investigation or after an arrest has been made.
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