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Kidnapping is defined as seizing, confining, abducting, or carrying away a person by force or fraud, often to subject him or her to involuntary servitude, to demand a ransom, or in furtherance of another crime. Kidnapping is defined in United States Code Service Title 18, Part I, Chapter 55, Section 1201 (also known as Federal Kidnapping Act).  The act provides that if a victim is not released within 24 hours after abduction, a court may presume that the victim was transported across state lines. This presumption may be rebutted with evidence to the contrary.  Other federal kidnapping statutes prohibit kidnapping in U.S. territories, kidnapping on the high seas and in the air, and kidnapping of government officials. (18 U.S.C.A. §§ 1201 et seq., 1751 et seq.).

A person who is convicted of kidnapping is usually sentenced to prison for a certain number of years. In some states, and at the federal level, the term of imprisonment may be the remainder of the offender’s natural life, and in jurisdictions that authorize death penalty, a kidnapper can be charged with a capital offense if the kidnapping results in death.

There are two key elements which are common to all charges of kidnapping.  First, the transportation or detention must be unlawful. Secondly, some aggravating circumstance must accompany the transportation or detention. This can include a demand for money or an attempt to inflict injury on the abductee.

Most kidnapping statutes recognize different types and levels of kidnapping and assign punishment accordingly.  For example, New York State has divided kidnapping into first-degree kidnapping ((N.Y. Penal Code § 135.25) and second degree kidnapping (N.Y. Penal Code § 135.20).  In California, a carjacking statute is contained within the penal code’s chapter on kidnapping, and it carries a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (Cal. Penal Code § 209.5).

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