Introduction

Without question, kidnapping is among the most serious crimes you can be charged with in California, and particularly in LA County where the District Attorney’s Office devotes considerable resources to prosecuting. (For example, its Child Abduction Section focuses on convicting adults alleged to have kidnapped minors under age fourteen.) Indeed, punishments for kidnapping offenses can include life without parole or even a death sentence (see below).

California Statutes Regarding Violent Crimes – Kidnapping

California Penal Code section 207(a) – Simple Kidnapping

You will be charged with this felony-strike if you use force or the threat of force to abduct, hold, detain, or illegally arrest someone, and if you transport the victim to any other vicinity, county, state, or nation.

See: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-207.html.

California Penal Code section 207(b) – Aggravated Kidnapping – Child Molestation

For the purpose of committing any lewd act on a minor who is thirteen years or younger (as that crime is set forth in California Penal Code section 288), if you hire, convince, entice, deceive, or seduce via any fake promise or misrepresentation, to leave with you out of the vicinity, you will be charged under this criminal code.

See: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-288.html.

California Penal Code section 207(e) – Aggravated Kidnapping – Child/Person Incapable of Consent

The only force the prosecutor needs to prove you used to convict you of this crime is only that necessary to carry away a child or adult who is otherwise physically incapable of resisting you. The ADA must also prove you carried him or her away a “substantial distance”, and that you did so for some criminal purpose.

California Penal Code section 209(b) – Aggravated Kidnapping – Robbery, Rape, Other Sex Offenses

If you abduct or take with you anyone for the purpose of committing any of the following crimes, you’ll be charged under this statute:

  1. robbery;

  2. rape (including of your former or current spouse);

  3. oral copulation;

  4. sodomy; or

  5. any sex offense codified at:

    1. California Penal Code section 264.1 (see: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-264-1.html);

    2. California Penal Code section 288 (see: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-288.html);

    3. California Penal Code section 289 (see: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-289.html).

See: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-209.html.

However, the distance to which the victim is carried away must be more than the minimum required for you to commit the underlying felony. For example, if during a bank robbery, you forced employees and customers to line up against a wall, you would not also be charged with kidnapping. Pen. Code § 209(b)(2).

California Penal Code section 209(a) – Aggravated Kidnapping – Ransom, Reward, or Extortion

Kidnapping for any of these purposes will trigger prosecution under this statute.

California Penal Code section 209.5(a)&(b) – Aggravated Kidnapping – During Carjacking

If during your commission of a carjacking you kidnap the driver or other occupant of the vehicle, you’ll be tried for this specific crime. Again, as indicated above, the distance must be substantially more than that required to pull off the underlying crime. For example, you forced the victim to drive to another county before you dropped him or her off.

However, this transportation must have increased the victim’s jeopardy beyond just that created by the carjacking. At trial, of course, this will be a question of fact to be determined by the jury.

See: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-209-5.html. See also California Penal Code section 215(a) for the definition of “carjacking” at: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-215.html.

Convictions and Sentencing Terms for Violent Crimes – Kidnapping

California Penal Code section 207(a) – Simple Kidnapping

A three-year, five-year, or eight-year prison sentence is the typical punishment for this crime, as well as a maximum ten-thousand-dollar fine.

See California Penal Code section 208(a) at: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-208.html.

California Penal Code section 209(b) – Aggravated Kidnapping – Robbery, Rape, Other Sex Offenses

This conviction will result in a life-with-possible parole sentence. Pen. Code § 209(b)(1).

California Penal Code section 209(a) – Aggravated Kidnapping – Ransom, Reward, or Extortion

This conviction also entails a life sentence with the possibility of parole. However, there will be no such possibility if you actually injure or, of course, kill the victim during the kidnapping.

California Penal Code section 209.5(a)&(b) – Aggravated Kidnapping – During Carjacking

Again, this conviction entails life with possible parole.

Sentencing Enhancements – Strike Offenses

As stated above, kidnapping is a strike offense as defined in California Penal Code section 667. Therefore, depending on whether this your first, second, or third strike conviction, the underlying sentence will be enhanced by five years, double the underlying sentence, or twenty-five-to-life with possible parole.

See: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-667.html.

Sentencing Enhancements – Special Circumstances

If you murdered the victim during the kidnapping, then you can receive life without parole or even the death penalty, pursuant to California Penal Code section 190.2(a)(17). See: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-190-2.html.

Defenses to Violent Crimes – Kidnapping

You can use the following defenses to defeat the foregoing charges:

  1. you didn’t use force or the threat thereof to take away the purported victim;

  2. you didn’t move him or her more than an incidental or insignificant distance;

  3. the supposed victim actually lawfully consented to you moving him or her; and

  4. you did in fact reasonably believe you had such consent.

See Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (“CALCRIM”) number 1215 (“Kidnapping”) at: https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/1200/1215/.

In regard to a charge of "Kidnapping to Molest a Child", the following defenses will apply:

  1. you did not use false promises or misrepresent facts to lure away the child;

  2. the child was at least fourteen years old (note that other crimes may be charged and prosecuted if he or she is above the minimum thirteen-years-or-younger age for this specific offense);

  3. you never committed a lewd act on him or her, nor did you intend to (same);

  4. you only moved the minor an insignificant distance.

See CALCRIM number 1200 (“Kidnapping: For Child Molestation”) at: https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/1200/1200/.

If charged with abducting a child or adult incapable of consenting, you can hopefully argue the following:

  1. you didn’t use physical force or any deceptive means to carry off an otherwise non-resisting child thirteen years of age or younger or mentally impaired adult;

  2. you only moved him or her an insubstantial distance;

  3. you did not do so with an illegal or unlawful intent.

See CALCRIM number 1201 (“Kidnapping: Child or Person Incapable of Consent”) at: https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/1200/1201/.

If you’re charged with kidnapping while committing or attempting to commit robbery, rape, or any other sexual offense (as defined in the statutes identified above), then your defense might depend on the following circumstances:

  1. at the time of the alleged abduction, you did not intend or attempt to commit any of these offenses; or

  2. if you did have that intent, you did not take, hold, or detain the purported victim through force or the threate thereof;

  3. you did not move him or her through the use of that force or threat;

  4. or if you did move him or her through one or both means, the distance moved was insubstantial or the distance was merely incidental to one of these underlying offenses;

  5. the purported victim actually and lawfully consented to being moved or you reasonably and actually believed you had his or her consent.

See CALCRIM number 1203 (“Kidnapping: For Robbery, Rape, or Other Sex Offenses”) at: https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/1200/1203/.

Miscellaneous Defenses

If you took the child because you reasonably and actually believed he or she was in “imminent danger”, then you cannot be criminally culpable of kidnapping.

See Pen. Code § 207(f)(1), as well as CALCRIM number 1225 (“Defense to Kidnapping: Protecting Child From Imminent Harm”) at: https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/1200/1225/.

Nor can you be culpable for kidnapping if you effected a legal citizen’s arrest, which means you:

  1. reasonably believed the purported victim committed a felony; or

  2. he or she actually did commit a felony; or

  3. he or she committed a misdemeanor in front of you.

See CALCRIM number 1226 (“Defense to Kidnapping: Citizen’s Arrest”) at: https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/1200/1226/.

Examples of Violent Crimes – Kidnapping Cases

Baby daddy receives more than eighty-eight years for kidnapping at gunpoint mother and their kids

At the beginning of May 2018, Steve Houk (age forty-eight) allegedly assaulted his baby mama at a recreational vehicle lot in Malibu by aiming a fully-loaded handgun at her while threatening to murder her in front of their two kids (ages ten months and three, respectively). He then allegedly kidnapped the unidentified woman in her own RV – again, at gunpoint – then stopped to pump gas along the way until they reached a diner in Santa Clarita where, bizarrely, he forced her to hustle spare change from strangers.

Fortunately, she was able to somehow notify one of them of her ordeal, and that person called 9-1-1. When LASD arrived, Houk led the deputies on an RV chase all the way to Bakersfield, where he abandoned the vehicle and fled on foot. He was eventually arrested in Bakersfield.

In early August 2019, Houk (reportedly a convicted sex offender) was tried and found guilty of the following felonies: simple kidnapping (multiple counts), child abuse (same), corporal injury upon a (former) spouse, ADW (firearm), making a terrorist threat, felon possessing a handgun, and police pursuit. One month later, he received almost nine decades in a California penitentiary.

See: https://da.lacounty.gov/sites/default/files/press/090419_Father_Sentenced_for_Kidnapping_Fleeing_From_Police_in_RV.pdf.

Convicted Compton sex offender receives life sentence for two kidnappings with intent to rape

At the end of April 2016, Tony McDaniel allegedly convinced two unidentified young women to enter his vehicle with the promise of transportation to their destination. Once they were locked in, authorities claimed he tried to sexually attack them while driving. One of the victims jumped out of the car on a freeway onramp and was wounded.

Shortly thereafter, the remaining victim forced McDaniel to crash his vehicle on a freeway near DTLA, thereby enabling her to flee to safety. Apparently he was intending to take them to his Compton residence to rape them (or so the jury found true). In any event, after his vehicle was rendered inoperable by the crash, he was forced to flee on foot near Pasadena, where he was arrested by local police.

Strangely, McDaniel had been under electronic supervision at the time because of an eight-year-old conviction for attempted rape, which allowed police to retrace his exact movements after the fact. In mid October 2018, the jury found him guilty of several felonies for kidnapping for the purposes of committing rape. As a result, in late January 2019, he received a life sentence with parole eligibility in twenty-eight years.

See: https://da.lacounty.gov/sites/default/files/press/012819_Sex_Offender_Sentenced_to_Life_in_Prison_for_Kidnapping_Two_Women_in_Pasadena.pdf.

Three Chinese nationals sentenced to prison for kidnapping and multiple assaults on two females

On or about March 27, 2015, three Chinese nationals living in the U.S. on student visas – females Yunyao Zhai and Xinlei Zhang, and a male named Yuhan Yang – allegedly physically assaulted a girl (age sixteen) at a public place in Rowland Heights, with Ms. Zhai punching and slapping her. The three suspects then allegedly physically forced a young woman (age eighteen) from another public place nearby and took her against her will to a local park.

According to the DA’s Office, the three suspects then forced the victim to take off all her clothes, after which they pummeled her with fists and feet, and put out lit cigarettes on her body, for almost half-a-dozen hours. Ms. Zhang also allegedly cut off her hair, which she forced the victim to consume. Afterwards, they let her go. Both this and the other victim called 9-1-1.

Three days later, the LA Co. Sheriff’s Dept. arrested Ms. Zhang and Mr. Yang, while the alleged ringleader, Ms. Zhai, was apprehended fourteen days later.

On or about Jannuary 4, 2016, all three suspected accepted nolo contendre felony pleas to simple kidnapping and assault with force likely to result in severe injury. In addition, Ms. Zhai admitted to a special allegation of personally inflicting severe physical injury during the commission of a felony. As a result, in mid February 2016, Ms. Zhai received a thirteen-year prison sentence, while Mr. Yang was given a decade and Ms. Zhang half-a-dozen years. It remains unclear exactly what motivated them to commit the assaults.

See: https://da.lacounty.gov/sites/default/files/press/021716_Three_Chinese_Nationals_Sentenced_to_Prison_for_Kidnapping_Assaults_in_Rowland_Heights.pdf.

Examples of Violent Crimes – Kidnapping Cases Involving Celebrities

Kidnapping of Frank Sinatra, Jr.

On or about December 7, 1963, the nineteen-year-old son of famous singer Frank Sinatra was kidnapped at gunpoint from a south Lake Tahoe (California side) casino by three bungling, incompetent men: ringleader Barry Keenan (who had gone to the same high school as Sinatra’s other child, daughter Nancy and was twenty-three at the time), John Irwin (Keenan’s mom’s lover), and Joseph Amsler (twenty-three, Keenan’s best friend).

The three men gained entry to Frank Sinatra Junior’s room by pretending to be deliverymen. The plan was to take Sinatra to a residence in Burbank where they would ransom him to his father. However, they didn’t have enough money for gas for the drive so had to take the cash from Sinatra, as well as additional funds for several food stops along the way. During the trip, the victim was either blindfolded or forced to ride in the trunk.

The next day, the abductors began making a series of calls to Sinatra Sr., demanding a ransom of just under a quarter-million dollars. (They had not seen Sinatra Sr. making a plea earlier that day on TV saying he would gladly give a million for his only boy’s safe return.) An attorney for Sinatra Sr. made the pay-off the next day, resulting in the kidnappers dropping Junior off unharmed near his mother’s Bel Air mansion almost fifty-five hours after the snatch occurred.

Junior apparently inherited his father’s intelligence and was thereby able to help police track down and arrest the three men based on the fast-food they ate along the way, as well as the number of aircraft that flew over the Burbank residence. After a month-long trial, all three men were convicted of kidnapping for ransom and conspiracy to commit the same. They all received life sentences for for some inexplicable reason were all released after serving less than five years. (Keenan was discharged early for mental-health reasons.)

In 2003, Stealing Sinatra, a feature film, was released on Showtime with David Arquette, Ryan Browning, and William H. Macy playing Keenan, Amsler, and Irwin, respectively.

See: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2016/03/17/the-bizarre-sensational-1963-kidnapping-of-frank-sinatra-jr/.

The aggravated kidnapping of Hollywood actors Daisy McCrackin and Joe Capone

On or about May 2, 2018, two working actors (both starred in the 2002 feature Halloween: Resurrection), Daisy McCrackin and her live-in boyfriend Joe Capone, were allegedly home-invaded at their South LA residence by three locals: Keith Stewart, John Jones, and Ms. Amber Neal. Capone was allegedly beaten with a handgun before the victims were both bound, blindfolded, and driven to Jones’ Compton residence. He was also tortured, suffering the loss of an eye and having his tongue slashed.

Over the course of the next day-and-a-half, Capone was allegedly repeatedly beaten, starved, and stripped of clothing. Meanwhile, McCracken was forced to go to several local banks to withdraw cash for Capone’s ransom, as well as write a ten-thousand-dollar check, which – incredibly – Neal deposited into her own bank account. (According to police, the three suspects were using crystal methamphetamine the entire time.)

The following morning, McCrackin somehow managed to flee and immediately notified police, who apprehended the three suspects exactly two months later. (It’s unclear how, when or where Capone was released.) They were all charged with numerous felonies for kidnapping for ransom, ADW (the pistol-whipping), mayhem (for the torture), grand theft, conspiracy to commit all of the foregoing, and possession with intent to sell the methamphetamine. As of this writing (October 20, 2020), none of the suspects appears to have pled out or gone to trial, but all face life imprisonment if convicted of at least the aggravated kidnapping charges.

See: https://people.com/crime/three-people-arrested-alleged-kidnapping-daisy-mccrackin/.

The kidnapping and murder of twelve-year-old Polly Klass

Polly Klaas was obviously not a celebrity but she became a household name in the U.S. because of the horrific and tragic nature of her abduction and murder, as well as the devastating effect the aftermath of her case continues to have to this day on California defendants charged with strike offenses (see below).

Klaas’ nightmare began on the night of October 1st, 1993, when convicted kidnapper Richard Allen Davis quietly broke into her house in Petaluma (Sonoma County) and used a blade to force her to leave with him. Despite a nationwide manhunt and blanket media coverage, her body was not retrieved until eight weeks later.

Specifically, detectives discovered Klaas’ clothes in a NorCal forest, which in turn led them to Davis’ vehicle which had been abandoned in the same region. (DNA evidence in Klaas’ room also tied Davis to the crime.) After he was arrested, Davis eventually led them to her grave in that same forest. Klaas’ case became particularly sensationalized when lawmakers learned that Davis had been released early for good behavior from a sixteen-year sentence for kidnapping, among other violent felonies.

Thus, the state’s judicial system was simultaneously tried with Allen, who served as the poster boy for numerous right-wing California politicians who wanted to appear tough on crime. The other poster boy was Klaas’ own father, Marc, who was instrumental in starting the campaign to pass our unjust and draconian “Three Strikes” law. Indeed, when Marc Klaas discovered that the new law would impose potential life sentences for even non-violent felony convictions, he not only withdrew from the campaign to pass the law, but actively lobbied against it.

In any event, after confronted with the evidence against him, Davis confessed and led him to her body. Two-and-a-half years after her murder, he was convicted of first-degree murder with special circumstances, aggravated kidnapping, and a host of other felonies. In September 1996, he received the death penalty. He resides on San Quentin’s Death Row to this day.

See: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/a-12-year-old-girl-is-kidnapped.

The Los Angeles Criminal Attorney Law Firm (LADALF)

As a veteran and highly successful criminal-defense trial attorney, LADALF’s founder Ninaz Saffari has more than fifteen years of experience fighting virtually every type of violent-crime charge, including murder, rape, robbery and, of course, kidnapping.

The most high-profile case she has recently handled involved the September 2018 prosecution of her 21-year-old client, as well as five co-defendants, for the alleged kidnapping and gang-rape of a minor (16-year-old girl). As a result, the client was facing life in prison if convicted of either the kidnapping or the gang-rape charge. After conducting an extensive investigation (which included convincing previously-unwilling witnesses to come forward with the critical videotaped evidence), at the preliminary hearing, Ninaz was able to prove that the purported victim had been lying about every single allegation. As a result, the DA's Office immediately dismissed those charges against her client and all the other defendants -- everyone was immediately released from custody.