Kidnapping is often associated with the alarming image of strangers coercing children into vehicles or sneaking into homes under the cover of darkness. However, contrary to popular belief, the majority of kidnappings are actually carried out by non-custodial parents who violate custody agreements or become entangled in family disputes. While these parents may genuinely believe they can provide better care for their children, defying a custody order exposes them to charges of kidnapping or related offenses.
Pennsylvania has comprehensive laws outlining the crime of kidnapping and the various ways an individual can be found guilty of this charge.
Kidnapping occurs when a person unlawfully confines someone else in an isolated location for a significant duration or moves them a “substantial distance under the circumstances” from their initial location. The intent behind the act generally falls into one of the following categories:
- Hindering government or public officials from fulfilling their duties.
- Holding the person for reward or ransom.
- Instilling fear in the victim or others, or inflicting physical harm.
- Aiding in fleeing from or engaging in a felony.
Kidnapping under these circumstances is classified as a first-degree felony.
Unlawful restraint comes into play when someone:
- Holds another person against their will in a state of involuntary servitude.
- Prevents someone from leaving a situation where they face a substantial risk of serious injury.
When these acts are committed against an adult, they are classified as first-degree misdemeanors. However, if they involve a minor, the charges escalate to second-degree felonies.
Interference With Custody of Children
Interfering with the custody of children is a serious offense that falls under the umbrella of kidnapping. In simple terms, it occurs when a person recklessly or knowingly entices or takes a minor under the age of 18 away from their parent, legal guardian, or other lawful custodian.
The severity of this offense is determined by several factors, one of which is whether the offender had knowledge that their actions would cause serious concern and alarm for the child’s safety. By default, this charge is classified as a third-degree felony, but if the offender was aware of the potential harm they were causing, it escalates to a second-degree felony.
Various circumstances can further elevate the charge to a second-degree felony:
- The defendant has visitation rights or partial custody.
- The defendant had the child for less than 24 hours.
- The defendant had “good cause” for their actions.
The penalties for kidnapping vary, depending on the severity of the offense and the specific circumstances involved. Here’s an overview:
- First-degree felony: Fines of up to $20,000 and prison terms of up to 20 years.
- Second-degree felony: Fines of up to $25,000 and prison terms of up to 10 years.
- Second-degree misdemeanor: Fines of up to $5,000 and prison terms of up to 2 years.
It is crucial to understand that kidnapping charges can have unforeseen consequences in family court, as they often involve violations of custodial agreements. These charges can significantly impact the outcome of custody battles and parental rights disputes.
Kidnapping Charge Defenses
Challenging kidnapping charges can be complex, but it is possible to mount a defense. For example, one defense strategy could involve proving that the person was not acting in violation of a custody order. It is not uncommon for children to have preferences for one parent over the other and attempt to stay with their preferred parent, thereby breaching the custody agreement. Additionally, a parent may claim that they removed their child from the custodial parent due to concerns related to abuse or substance abuse. In many cases, the paramount concern for the child’s safety outweighs any violation of the custody agreement.
When it comes to kidnapping charges, there are various circumstances that can be taken into consideration. Here are a few examples:
- Preventing a parent from having access to their child.
- Taking a child away from a parent they are unfamiliar with and transporting them to a different state.
- Violating a joint custody agreement for more than 24 hours.
- Taking your own child away from the parent who has primary custody.
It is important to note that not every case can be clearly defined as a kidnapping case. These charges often arise from complex situations.
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