29 Nov 23

If I Kidnap Someone Across State Lines is it a Federal Crime?

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Last Updated on: 16th December 2023, 11:16 am

Is Kidnapping Across State Lines a Federal Crime?

Kidnapping is scary stuff. Like, if someone takes you from your home or work or wherever, forces you into a car, and drives you somewhere far away against your will? That’s terrifying. And traumatic. The legal term is “unlawfully confining someone against their will,” but let’s call it what it is – kidnapping.

Now, if the kidnapping happens within the same state, it’s dealt with under that state’s criminal laws. But what if the victim is taken across state lines? Does it become a federal case then? Let’s break it down.

Hell yeah, it’s a federal crime

Transporting a kidnapping victim across state lines 100% makes it a federal crime. It violates the Federal Kidnapping Act, which says it’s illegal to unlawfully seize, confine, kidnap, abduct or carry away a person and hold them for ransom, reward or otherwise – if they are then transported across state lines.

So if you grab someone in Texas and drive them to Oklahoma against their will? Federal crime. If you abduct someone in California and take them to Nevada? Federal. Vermont to New Hampshire? Federal. You get the idea. Crossing state lines is the key.

It’s because once state lines are crossed, it impacts interstate commerce – which is regulated by federal law under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. So Uncle Sam gets jurisdiction.

Harsh penalties

And the penalties for federal kidnapping charges are no joke. We’re talking:

  • Up to life in prison
  • And/or a fine up to $250,000
  • Or death penalty if the victim dies

Like, they could literally send you to federal “pound-me-in-the-ass” prison for life. So it’s not worth it, folks!

What about defenses?

Now, if you do get slapped with federal kidnapping charges, there are some defenses your lawyer could try – but they ain’t great:

  • You were insane/mentally ill at the time
  • Duress – someone threatened your life unless you did it
  • “It was just a prank, bro!” (good luck with that)

Because of the seriousness of the crime, defenses that seek to justify the kidnapping typically don’t fly. The court cares more about the trauma of the victim than whatever reason you thought made it okay to abduct them across state lines. Ya feel me?


What about parental kidnapping?

Now, there’s a specific kind of federal kidnapping charge for when parents take their own kids across state lines against a custody order. That’s illegal under the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act.

The penalties are less harsh – only up to 3 years in prison. But it’s still federal if state lines are crossed. Because America cares about both commerce and families, ya know?

Let’s recap

Kidnapping someone within a state = state crime. Kidnapping them and taking them across state lines = federal crime. It’s that simple:

  • State lines crossed? Federal.
  • No state lines? State jurisdiction.

The penalties for federal kidnapping are no joke – we’re talking life in prison or even death penalty. And defenses don’t work so well when trauma is involved. So don’t do it, mmkay?

And if you’re dealing with custody battles, taking the kids across state lines against an order? Also federal. Not smart, folks.

Let’s all agree to just not kidnap people. Cool? Cool.


18 U.S. Code § 1201 – Kidnapping

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of U.S. Constitution

18 U.S. Code § 1204 – International parental kidnapping