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Kidnapping is a crime at common law consisting of an unlawful restraint of a person's liberty by force or show of force. Under modern law, this crime usually only requires that the victim be taken to another location or concealed, but historical definitions required bringing the victim to another state or country.

In some jurisdictions, kidnapping accompanied by bodily injury, sexual assault, or a demand for ransom elevates the crime to first-degree or aggravated kidnapping. Although the terms kidnapping and abduction are sometimes used interchangeably, abduction is a broader category that generally does not require the threat or use of force.

Model Penal Code §212.1 defines kidnapping as follows:

“A person is guilty of kidnapping if he unlawfully removes another from his place of residence or business, or a substantial distance from the vicinity where he is found, or if he unlawfully confines another for a substantial period in a place of isolation, with any of the following purposes:

  • to hold for ransom or reward, or as a shield or hostage; or 
  • to facilitate commission of any felony or flight thereafter; or
  • to inflict bodily injury on or to terrorize the victim or another; or
  • to interfere with the performance of any governmental or political function.

Kidnapping is a felony of the first degree unless the actor voluntarily releases the victim alive and in a safe place prior to trial, in which case it is a felony of the second degree.  A removal or confinement is unlawful within the meaning of this Section if it is accomplished by force, threat, or deception, or, in the case of a person who is under the age of 14 or incompetent, if it is accomplished without the consent of a parent, guardian or other person responsible for general supervision of his welfare.”

The federal kidnapping statute is 28 USC §1201.

See also: 

[Last updated in June of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]