The Felony Crime of Kidnapping in California - PC 207
California Penal Code Section 207 PC defines the serious felony crime of kidnapping as moving another person a substantial distance against their will by means of force or fear.
Note that kidnapping is distinct from its lesser included offense, false imprisonment under Penal Code 236 PC, in that kidnapping requires the victim to be moved.
Holding a person against their will in one location, i.e. preventing them from leaving, is considered the crime of false imprisonment, which is often related to domestic violence cases.
Aggravated kidnapping – PC 209
A closely related crime is aggravated kidnapping under Penal Code 209 PC that can be charged if:
- you used force or fear on a victim under 14 years old;
- you caused victim to sustain serious bodily injury or death;
- you demand ransom after the kidnapping.
Kidnapping is a “strike” offense under California's three-strikes law, though the applicability of three-strikes in Los Angeles county in particular is now in doubt due to the new LA District Attorney George Gascon administration.
Our Los Angeles criminal lawyers discuss below some common fact patterns which are prosecuted under Penal Code 207 PC, the applicable punishments, and the common defenses.
What Must a Prosecutor Prove for a PC 207 Kidnapping Conviction?
In order to answer this question, let's first review the definition under California Penal Code 207 PC, which is often called “simple” kidnapping:
- “(a) Anyone who forcibly, or by any means of instilling fear, steals, takes, holds, detains, or arrests a person and carries them to another country, state, or county, or into a part of the same county, is guilty of kidnapping.”
In order for a prosecutor to convict a defendant of PC 207 kidnapping, they must be able to prove several different factors that are commonly known as the “elements of the crime.”
Elements of the crime
The elements (CALCRIM 1215) of kidnapping which the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt are:
- moving another person,
- against their will,
- by means of force or fear.
Requirement that the person was “moved”
The movement requirement calls for proof that the victim was moved a substantial, or non-trivial, distance.
There is no hard and fast rule about how far a distance has to be to qualify as “substantial.” Courts look to different factors to determine if this crucial element is met, such as:
- whether the movement increased the danger to the victim, or;
- helped the perpetrator avoid detection, and;
- the actual distance the victim was moved.
In past cases, distances of as little as 30 feet have been upheld as substantial depending on the facts and circumstances.
Without consent of the victim
The “against their will” requirement is fairly straight forward. The victim must not have consented to being moved.
Going along with the kidnapper because of fear of harm is not valid consent.
Use of force, fear, or fraud
Finally, the movement of the victim must be accomplished by either force or fear. Force means the application of physical force, such as:
- physically grabbing and dragging the victim and carrying them away;
- physical restraint in order to move them to another location.
Fear can be applied through threats of force, either against the victim themselves or against a loved one.
Fear is often applied in kidnapping cases through the use of a deadly weapon, such as holding the victim at gunpoint or knifepoint.
What are the Penalties for a PC 207 Kidnapping Conviction?
Punishments for those convicted of kidnapping under Penal Code 207 PC differ depending on whether the case involves “simple” kidnapping or “aggravated” kidnapping.
A simple PC 207 kidnapping conviction is punishable by:
- three, five, or eight years in California state prison, and;
- a fine up to $10,000.
As stated above, aggravated kidnapping under related Penal Code Section 209 PC, occurs when the elements of simple kidnapping are met, but an additional aggravating factor is present, such as:
- kidnapping a victim who is a minor child under the age of 14,
- demanding a ransom for the return of the kidnapping victim,
- kidnapping someone while in the commission of a carjacking, or
- causing serious bodily injury or death to the kidnapping victim.
Aggravated kidnapping is punishable by five, eight, or eleven years if you kidnapped a minor under 14.
However, aggravated kidnapping is potentially punishable by life in prison with the possibility of parole if you kidnapped the victim in order to commit:
- Penal Code 211 PC – robbery,
- Penal Code 518 PC – extortion,
- Penal Code 261 PC – rape,
- Penal Code 288 PC – lewd acts with a minor.
What the Related California Crimes for Kidnapping?
Penal Code 209.5 PC – kidnapping during carjacking,
Penal Code 210 PC – kidnapping for extortion,
Penal Code 236 PC – false imprisonment,
Penal Code 210.5 PC – false imprisonment to protect from arrest,
Penal Code 278 PC – child abduction,
Penal Code 278.5 PC – deprivation of child custody order
How Can I Fight Kidnapping Charges?
Common defense to a charge of kidnapping under Penal Code Section 207 PC focus of reasonable doubt as to the core elements of the offense, including:
- insufficient movement of victim;
- insufficient evidence;
- consent by victim to be moved;
- parental rights to move their child.
If the victim was not moved, the correct charge is PC 236 false imprisonment, which carries substantially less serious penalties.
If the victim was moved, but not by force or fear, the defendant cannot be properly convicted of Penal Code 207 PC kidnapping.
One common example is when a victim is moved by trick or fraud. Except in the case of children under the age of 14 or those with a mental disability who are not able to meaningfully consent, a victim who is tricked into moving rather than threatened into moving has not been kidnapped.
Child custody dispute example
A common situation in which defendants may be charged with kidnapping, but have a viable defense, is in child custody disputes.
Parents in disputed custody situations often travel with their children at times or in ways that the other parent considers unlawful.
So long as the parent takes the children and moves them without the intent to commit another unlawful act, i.e. to harm the child, the parent is not guilty under Penal Code Section 207 PC.
They may, however, be charged with violation of a child custody order or interference with the other parent's custodial rights.
Criminal Defense for California Kidnapping Charges
Kidnapping is a serious felony offense under California law that carries severe penalties if you are convicted.
If you, or someone you know, is being investigated for, has been arrested for, or is charged with a violation of either Penal Code Section 207 PC, or Penal Code Section 209
PC, contact our team of experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys for an initial consultation.
Through the process of prefiling intervention, it may be possible to reduce or drop charges before the court process begins.
Eisner Gorin LLP is a top-rated criminal defense law firm representing clients throughout Southern California Courts, including LA County, Orange County, Ventura County, Pasadena, San Fernando Valley, Riverside, and San Bernardino.
We are located at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067.
Our main office is next to the Van Nuys Courthouse at 14401 Sylvan St #112 Van Nuys, CA 91401.
Contact our office for an immediate consultation at (877) 781-1570.