Arresting or detaining another person without their consent or the right to do so can give rise to kidnapping charges. California has stringent laws against violent crimes, under which the offense of kidnapping falls. A person found guilty of this can be sentenced for up to eight years in prison, with a maximum fine of $10,000. However, the court gives the accused a chance to defend themselves in a trial against all criminal charges. Based on the prosecution’s evidence and your defense, the court can reduce or drop your charges.
At Darwish Law, we understand the stress and uncertainty of a severe criminal charge as kidnapping. That is why we offer our experienced criminal defense services to ensure that you stand a fair trial. Therefore, if you face charges for kidnapping in Santa Ana, CA, we could guide and help you through the legal process as we protect your rights in the matter.
Legal Definition of California Kidnapping
In California, kidnapping occurs when one person moves another a significant distance without that individual’s consent and through fear or force. The offense could be committed in several ways. For example, luring a child into your vehicle, driving and hiding the child in your house, and then calling their parents to demand a ransom for the child’s release. Kidnapping is a grave offense, as it is committed against the victim’s will and through fear or force. Simple kidnapping is charged as a felony in California and could attract a penalty of up to eight years behind bars. Penalties could be stiffer in cases involving children or when the victim suffers a severe injury or dies in the process.
The legal explanation of California kidnapping considers some elements of the offense, which the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt for the offender to be found guilty. These elements are restraint, violence, or threats of violence.
For a simple kidnapping case, as provided under California Penal Section 207, the offender must have moved their victim without the victim’s consent using fear or force. Aggravated kidnapping subjects the offender to a greater punishment. It occurs when an offender moves their victim without the victim’s consent, using fear, fraud, or force and:
The purported victim is a minor below the age of 14
The offender holds the supposed victim for extortion/ransom
The victim incurs a bodily injury or death
The offender kidnaps an individual during a car theft
To understand the offense even better, let us look into each of its elements in detail.
Moving Another Person
The main element of kidnapping in California is moving another person over a significant distance. You must have moved another person beyond a trivial or slight distance. This movement needs to be substantial. California courts have no definite way to tell how significant the move must be for it to qualify as kidnapping. However, judges will rely on several factors in determining whether the move was substantial or insignificant. Some of these factors include:
The length of distance covered from the point of kidnapping
Whether the move puts the purported victim at a greater risk of injury, for example, moving a child from his/her home to an abandoned building increases their risk of injury
Whether the move decreased the defendant’s possibility of being found out
Here are examples of circumstances involving slight movements of victims that California courts could uphold as significant enough to bring forth kidnapping charges:
A defendant dragging a victim 15 feet away from the road to assault her — The movement, in this case, shows that the defendant was avoiding detection to facilitate rape. Thus, he /she could be charged with kidnapping.
An offender moved his/her victim 600 feet when he/she forcefully entered the victim’s vehicle and ordered him/her to drive away.
A defendant ordered a victim (minor) to move 100 feet from his/her parent’s gate to his/her vehicle.
The judge or jury has total discretion in deciding whether a particular move was substantial enough to warrant a kidnapping sentence or not. There isn’t any set distance that’ll automatically qualify as significant for a kidnapping case. It is what makes kidnapping cases easy to challenge by criminal defense attorneys. Thus, if you face kidnapping charges, it is advisable to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer. A smart attorney will know the defense strategies to weaken the prosecutor’s case and have your charges dropped or reduced.
However, kidnappings during carjacking are dealt with differently. In some instances, a defendant orders the driver out of their car so he/she can gain control of the vehicle and speed off. In this case, the offense committed is carjacking since the driver has not moved a significant distance from their car. However, if the offender orders the driver to drive to a remote village, or an unpopular part of the town, then orders the driver out, kidnapping charges could suffice in the case.
Movement Without the Victim’s Consent
Moving another person over a considerable distance will not satisfy kidnapping elements unless the move was made against the victim’s consent. The victim might have protested the move or even created a commotion before you succeeded in moving him/her. If the victim didn’t move voluntarily, you could be found guilty of kidnapping.
Note that children and people who are psychologically or mentally incapacitated (including those who suffer a mental disorder or are too intoxicated) are considered legally incapable of consenting.
A Move Done Through Fraud, Fear, or Force
Fraud, fear, and force are also crucial in California kidnapping cases. To be found guilty of kidnapping, you need to have used force, violence, fraud, or threats to move your victim from one point to another. Simple kidnapping charges in California require the defendant to have used force or fear to move their victim without the victim’s consent.
Fear, or force, in this case, means that you inflicted actual physical force or fear upon the victim, or you threatened to inflict immediate bodily injury on them.
Here are examples of cases in which physical force was applied to commit a kidnapping:
A defendant physically restraining their victim, making it easy to move him/her
A defendant physically dragging or pushing a victim to a specific location
A defendant beating a victim to a point where they’re not able to fight a kidnapping
When it comes to children or infants, the kind of physical force you can use is one required to take or carry them away.
On the other hand, fear can be used in various situations, such as the following:
Holding the victim at knifepoint or gunpoint while ordering them to cooperate
Threatening to abuse the victim, either physically or sexually, if they fail to abide by your demands
Threatening to harm the victim’s close family if the victim fails to obey your demands
Kidnapping in California can also involve moving a victim fraudulently. But when fraud is used without force or fear, the case may not amount to general kidnapping. Fraud is mostly used in aggravated situations involving kidnapping, such as the following:
Fraudulently kidnapping a minor under 14 years intending to commit lewd/lascivious acts with the child, thus violating Penal Code Section 288.
Fraudulently kidnapping an adult intending to leave the state with the person to sell him/her into involuntary servitude or slavery.
Fraudulently kidnapping and bringing an individual from one state to another.
Generally, fraud refers to a deliberate deception by one person, practiced for his/her own gain. It means that you might have misled your victims or used false promises to convince the victim to consent to the move. If that is the case, you could be guilty of fraudulently obtaining your victim’s consent.
California laws consider fraudulent consent as no consent. It’s because a person can only freely permit a movement when they know what the movement is all about. If the victim doesn’t understand all the basic facts of the move because you haven’t disclosed them, the law will treat it as if you acted without the victim’s consent.
Example: Jimmy (32 years old) convinced Tim, a 9-year old boy, to enter his car for a quick ride. He told the boy that he was his uncle and that Tim could trust him. In a case like this, Jimmy used fraudulent means to kidnap a 9-year old boy. Even though the boy willingly entered Jimmy’s car, Jimmy can be convicted for kidnapping a minor.
A victim could consent to a movement but later on, withdraw the consent. If you move the victim over a considerable distance against their protests, you violate the state’s kidnapping laws.
Penalties for a Kidnapping Conviction in California
As previously mentioned, kidnapping is a grave offense in California punishable by lengthy prison terms and hefty fines, among other penalties. That is why you need a strong defense to fight your charges to avoid a conviction.
In California, kidnapping is considered a continuing crime. Once a person kidnaps another, the length of time they continue to detain the victim is counted as a continuation of the offense. Moving a person from one point to another amounts to one instance of the crime. Your punishment will be determined by the length of time you detained the victim.
Penalties for a kidnapping conviction in California differ from one offender to the other, based on the circumstances of the offense as explained below:
A simple kidnapping offense is charged as a felony in California and is punishable by:
Three (3), five (5), or eight (8) years of imprisonment
A fine not exceeding $10,000
Aggravated kidnapping is a more severe form of kidnapping and is also charged as a felony. The punishment for aggravated kidnapping may include:
Five (5), eight (8), or eleven (11) years of imprisonment if the supposed victim was a minor below 14 years of age when the offense was committed
Life imprisonment with a possibility of parole if the kidnapping was for a reward, ransom, for extortion/blackmail, during a robbery, carjacking, or for the commission of a sex crime
Sex crimes, in this case, could include rape, oral copulation through fear/force, sodomy, or lewd acts with a child.
Life imprisonment without a possibility of parole if the offender committed the offense for a reward, ransom, or extortion, but the victim suffered a bodily injury or death, or the victim was placed in circumstances that exposed them to a substantial possibility of death.
The Three-Strike Law
Any form of kidnapping is a grave and violent felony in California. Thus, a sentence for kidnapping will count as a strike under the state’s Three-Strikes Law. California Three-Strikes Law is a sentencing scheme that gives offenders prison sentences of 25 years to life if they are sentenced to three serious or violent felonies. Second strikers receive double sentences under the scheme.
Therefore, if you’re convicted of simple or aggravated kidnapping and have a prior strike on your criminal record, you will be a second-striker and will receive a double sentence as provided under the law. If you already are a double striker, and the court convicts you for kidnaping, you qualify as a third striker. It means that you will be serving a mandatory prison term of 25 years to life as a minimum.
Common Legal Defense Strategies to California Kidnapping Charges
If you face charges for kidnapping, it is advisable to seek an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An attorney will play a vital role in explaining what your charges entail, what options are available for you, and whether there is a possibility of having your charges dropped or reduced. Your attorney will proceed to plan a strong defense for you and represent you in court. Fighting California kidnapping charges will require the best defense strategies from an experienced attorney. Some of these strategies include:
There Was Consent
Kidnapping entails moving another person without their consent. Availability of approval means that the supposed victim was not kidnapped but moved willingly. If that is the case, the court will drop your charges. However, you must provide sufficient proof to demonstrate that the purported victim agreed to the move. For instance, the victim agreed to go for a long ride in your car but later changed their mind after three or so miles. If you took him/her back, you might not be charged with kidnapping since he/she had agreed to the move in the first place.
However, the court will consider other elements before dismissing your case. Was there use of fear, force, or fraud to convince the victim to ride with you? Did you go back immediately when the victim changed his/her mind or continued with the move? If you continued moving against the victim’s will or used fear, force, or fraud at any given time, consent would not serve as an acceptable legal defense for your case.
The Move Was Insignificant
California kidnapping entails moving a person over a significant distance without their consent. If the move was insubstantial, then the court might consider dropping or reducing your charges based on the facts of your case. Kidnapping cases are quite tricky to prove by the prosecution because the court demands sufficient proof that the move was enough to qualify as kidnapping. Slight moves or moves over trivial distances may not indicate that the person was in any harm.
For example, moving a victim a few meters from their car to your car within the same parking area may not support kidnapping charges. However, remember that this is a criminal offense in which other factors are considered, including the victim’s age and physical situation. A smart attorney will fight the prosecutor’s account to have your charges dropped.
It is not unusual for a person to accuse another of committing a severe crime as kidnapping for reasons like the desire for revenge or out of spite. If this is your case, your attorney must be able to provide sufficient proof that you did not commit the offense in the first place. Kidnapping is a crime in which there are usually no credible records or eyewitness accounts to support the victim’s claims. Thus, it becomes easy for a person to accuse another falsely.
Your attorney will conduct an in-depth investigation into the allegations to prove in court that the supposed victim is accusing you falsely out of jealousy, anger, or vengeance. If successful, the court will drop your charges.
Find a Santa Ana Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Kidnapping is a severe offense that could land you in jail for more than eight years if you are found guilty. Therefore, if you face kidnapping charges in Santa Ana, we recommend the services of a competent criminal defense lawyer. Your lawyer will help you understand the legal procedure, plan a strong defense and represent you in court for a favorable outcome. At Darwish Law, we have excellent skills and experience to handle all types of criminal cases, including kidnapping. Therefore, we might help you compel the court to either reduce or drop your charges. Call us at 714-887-4810 and let us review your case.