California kidnapping laws can be found in Penal Code 207-209.5 PC. Under this statute, kidnapping is defined as moving another person a substantial distance without his or her consent by using force or fear.
In order to understand this specific definition of kidnapping, it may be helpful to examine each individual element:
Moving another person: This movement must be substantial—but the term “substantial” is open to interpretation. Whether or not the distance was substantial depends on the actual distance moved; whether the movement decreased the likelihood of being caught; and whether the movement increased the risk of harm to the victim.
Without his or her consent: This means that the alleged victim did not voluntarily agree to go with the alleged kidnapper.
By using force or fear: This can mean that the suspect inflicts physical force on the victim or threatens to inflict imminent physical harm. This may mean dragging the victim to another location, restraining the victim with rope or tape, or physically assaulting the person so that they are unable to resist. Using fear may include holding the person at gunpoint or knifepoint, threatening to hurt the victim’s family, or threatening to hurt the victim him or herself.
One can be charged with “aggravated kidnapping” rather than simple if one of the following aggravating factors applies:
- The suspect used force, fear, or fraud upon a child under 14 years of age
- There was a random demand
- The victim suffered serious bodily harm or death
- The suspect kidnapped another person while violating California’s carjacking law
(This is not an exhaustive list of aggravating factors. Always consult an experienced criminal defense attorney if you have questions about the circumstances of your case.)
Penalties, Punishment, and Sentencing
Kidnapping is a felony under California law, and it is punishable by three, five, or eight years in state prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.
Aggravated kidnapping is also a felony, and it carries with it different levels of punishments for different circumstances:
- If the victim was under 14 years old at the time, aggravated kidnapping is punishable by five, eight, or eleven years in state prison
- If the victim was kidnapped for ransom, reward, extortion, robbery, carjacking, or sex crimes, aggravated kidnapping is punishable by life in state prison with the possibility of parole
- If the victim was kidnapped for ransom, reward, or extortion and the victim suffers death or bodily harm (or is placed in a situation that exposes the victim to the substantial likelihood of death), aggravated kidnapping is punishable by life in state prison without the possibility of parole
Kidnapping and aggravated kidnapping both count as strikes under California’s Three Strikes Law. Therefore, if you are convicted of kidnapping and are subsequently charged with any felony, your sentence will be twice the term required by law. If charged with a third felony, you will serve a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years to life in prison.