"Kidnapping" is a word that usually conjures up images of the famous Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping (a famous kidnapping story from the early 1920’s, where the infant son of Charles Lindbergh was kidnapped and held for ransom) or the Patty Hearst kidnapping from the mid-1970’s, where the daughter of publishing magnate Randolph Hearst was held for political ransom. Failing reality, however, a Hollywood movie (for some strange reason usually starring Harrison Ford or Mel Gibson,) usually fills in the formulaic plot. In other words, kidnapping is usually envisioned as a situation where someone has been forcibly abducted, and held for some type of ransom.
In the real world, such a situation is not very common. Instead, “kidnapping” is usually a crime that is committed simultaneously along with other accompanying crimes. When this occurs, kidnapping is sometimes legally referred to as an “inchoate crime,” or a collateral crime. Legally speaking, for a “kidnapping” to occur, the use of force, the threat of force, coercion, duress, or some type of fraud must be present. “Coercion” and “duress” refer to some type of emotional pressure or threats of harm. While kidnapping may be commonly witnessed in cases where one person is seeking payment of money from a third party in exchange for the release of the victim, it can also take place to use a victim as a shield, or to demand the release of a prison convict from custody, or increasingly, to convey a political message.
Much more common in Massachusetts courts, however, are cases where a non-custodial parent either refuses to release custody of a child to the custodial parent after a scheduled visitation period, or when a non-custodial parent simply takes a child from the custodial parent (unconnected to a scheduled visitation.) These events revolve around cases of marital divorce and separation, and very frequently involve cases of domestic violence. While it is certainly true that perfect strangers can and do kidnap their victims, the majority of Massachusetts kidnapping prosecutions involve family members, dating partners, or acquaintances of some kind. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) estimates that over 200,000 cases of interstate kidnapping each year involve some type of family relative.
Another fact that may surprise you, is that, legally speaking, kidnapping also occurs when one (or more) person prevents another person from leaving a location, not just when a person is transported against his or her will from one location to another. As an example, if someone were to break into another’s residence, and prevent the homeowner or other occupants from leaving the dwelling, (but not transport them anywhere else) that would constitute kidnapping.Massachusetts Kidnapping Law and Criminal Penalties
Kidnapping in Massachusetts is governed by Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 265, Section 26. This statute defines kidnapping as legally occurring when a person, “without lawful authority, forcibly or secretly confines or imprisons another person within this commonwealth against his will, or forcibly carries or sends such person out of this commonwealth, or forcibly seizes and confines or inveigles or kidnaps another person, with intent either to cause him to be secretly confined or imprisoned in this commonwealth against his will, or to cause him to be sent out of this commonwealth against his will or in any way held to service against his will.”
The punishments for a kidnapping conviction (including any plea that equates to a conviction) are several – there is not just one sentencing range or punishment. Instead, the penalties for this crime can escalate depending on the circumstances that surrounded the kidnapping, and can depend on a variety of factors. Here is a very short sampling of such circumstantial factors:
- Whether the kidnapping occurred because the defendant was attempting to extort money from a third party;
- Whether the defendant used a gun, firearm, knife or other weapon;
- Whether the kidnapping victim was seriously injured in the course of the crime, (whether by a weapon or not);
- Whether the defendant sexually assaulted the kidnapping victim in any way.
In Massachusetts, kidnapping is a felony. This means that any incarceration is served at a state prison – not a County jail or House of Correction (those facilities house inmates that are either awaiting trial, or have been convicted of sentences involving a maximum of 2 ½ years confinement.) The incarceration conditions and the types of inmates that are housed at state prison facilities are particularly severe. Incarceration following a conviction (and, as stated above, any plea that equates to a conviction,) can range from a minimum of two years to life in prison. Here are some examples:
- For a kidnapping conviction where a gun or firearm was used and extortion demands made, the penalty is a minimum term of 20 years in state prison, up to a maximum of life in prison.
- For a kidnapping conviction where the victim is a child under the age of 16 – very often seen in cases of divorce and domestic violence -- the penalty is a state prison term of up to 15 years.
- For kidnapping involving the use of a firearm or gun, the potential penalty is a state prison term of no less than ten years.
- For a conviction involving serious bodily injury to the kidnapping victim, or if the victim was in any way sexually assaulted, the punishment is a state prison term of no less than 25 years.
The Law Office of William D. Kickham and Associates has years of successful experience in defending clients accused of kidnapping. If you are reading this page, it’s possible that either you or someone you know has been charged with a Massachusetts kidnapping, and you may be in the process of seeking a Massachusetts kidnapping defense attorney. If that is so, you or the person you know is at a critical stage. If the person who is accused chooses the wrong criminal defense attorney to defend him or her, very serious legal damage to that person could result. The legal consequences of choosing an inexperienced Boston/Dedham Massachusetts kidnapping defense attorney could result in that person being sentenced to prison, when prison time might otherwise be successfully avoided. If you are reading this page because either you or someone you care about has been accused of kidnapping in Massachusetts, call or contact us for a free consultation. We are experts in defending these cases, and we can provide you with the best legal guidance and direction available.