Kidnapping is usually related to a hostage situation, carjacking, or a parent taking a child in a custody dispute. It is illegal to take a person against his/her will to an undisclosed location for purposes of ransom, in furtherance of another crime or as a result of a custody dispute.
A person may be charged with kidnapping for committing the following acts:
- Unlawfully removing a person from the place where they are found, or;
- Unlawfully confining another with the purpose of demanding ransom, reward, or as a shield or hostage, or;
- Unlawfully confining another for a substantial period with intent to commit any of the following acts:
- Facilitate commission of a crime or flight thereafter;
- Inflict bodily harm or terrorize another;
- Interfere with a governmental or political function;
- Deprive custody of a victim to their parent or lawful custodian.
Kidnapping in New Jersey is a considered a first degree crime, carrying a jail sentence of between 15 and 30 years. Pursuant to the No Early Release Act, the person must serve 85% of the sentence before he is parole eligible.
The offense is enhanced if the victim is under 16 years of age and another crime is committed against the victim during their captivity, or the offender delivers the victim to another for financial gain. The penalty can be either 25 years incarceration with no possibility of parole, or a term between 25 years to life with no parole eligibility for the first 25 years.
Should a homicide be committed in conjunction with kidnapping, any sentence may run consecutively to any other sentence imposed.
A parent, guardian or lawful custodian who takes a minor child with the purpose of concealing the child in violation of a court order can be charged with the third degree crime of interference with custody. If the child is taken outside the United State or for more than 24 hours, the charge is upgraded to a second degree crime, which can result in imprisonment for 5 to 10 years.
Unlike other crimes, New Jersey specifies certain affirmative defenses to prosecution for kidnapping. An affirmative defense is a justification for the act, given the facts of a particular case. The defendant must assert an affirmative defense as soon as possible in the criminal proceeding or it may be deemed invalid. Possible scenarios for such a defense include:
- The defendant reasonably believed that taking the child was necessary to protect him/her from imminent harm. However, the offender must contact the police in the town where the victim resided, local prosecutor’s office where the victim resided, or to the Division of Youth and Family Services and give notice of the victim’s location no more than 24 hours after the taking the child.
- The defendant reasonably believed a parent or authorized state agency consented to the victim’s taking.
- The victim was at least 14 years of age and consented to being taken by their parent, so long as no criminal offense was intended by the parent.
- The parent, with a right to custody, takes the child reasonably believing that it was necessary to protect them from imminent physical danger from the other parent, so long as they give notice of the victim’s location to the police department where the victim resided, the county prosecutor’s office where the victim resided, or to the Division of Youth and Family Services.
Other defenses to kidnapping can include procedural challenges to search and seizure of evidence, identification of witnesses, and improper or illegal line-ups. A criminal defense lawyer can impugn or discredit eyewitness testimony, and identify possible prosecutorial misconduct that can lead to a dismissal of all charges.
What to Do if You are Arrested
Anyone charged with a crime should refuse to give any statements to law enforcement or other persons and demand an attorney. The police must immediately cease all questioning and allow the defendant to contact a criminal defense lawyer.
If the defendant is in financial straits, the court can appoint him a public defender, but this may not occur until the first court appearance. In the meantime, the defendant should refrain from talking to anyone, even on the phone, including other inmates.
If the offense occurs in conjunction with a child custody dispute, a defendant needs to tell their attorney immediately. A qualified criminal defense lawyer can determine from there if affirmative defenses can be developed and asserted.
A kidnapping conviction is a serious offense that will permanently remain on a defendant’s criminal record. It will affect their employment, ability to find employment, credit, insurance, travel outside the U.S., immigration status if applicable, and future custody of a child.
Only an experienced criminal defense attorney with experience in representing accused kidnappers can adequately defend a kidnapping charge. Given the facts of a case, a qualified attorney can develop possible affirmative defenses, and challenge the admissibility of evidence or of prosecutorial procedures. A qualified lawyer can also offer mitigating circumstances or other evidence that can modify charges, reduce sentences, or offer alternative sentencing options to the court.
If you or a loved one has been charged with kidnapping we may be able to help.