Hostage Taking

18 U.S. Code § 1203 - Hostage Taking

Being charged in federal court with 18 U.S.C. 1201 kidnapping can be life-changing. Suppose you are convicted. In that case, you face severe punishments that include mandatory life imprisonment.

Notably, not all kidnapping cases are prosecuted as a federal offense. Most are charged in a local state-level court, which carries lesser penalties.

For federal jurisdiction to attach to a kidnapping case that permits the United States Attorney's Office to prosecute a case, the defendant must have seized, confined, abducted, or carried away someone, and additional conditions must be present, such as transporting the victim in interstate or foreign commerce, meaning crossing state lines or international borders.

The closely related crime of taking hostages is federal when they cross international lines or are intended to coerce a government to take action.  Kidnapping can also involve forcing someone into a vehicle, taking them to another location, or even locking them up to prevent escape.

18 U.S. Code 1203 says, “Whoever, whether inside or outside the United States, seizes or detains and threatens to injure, kill, or continue to detain someone to compel a third person or a governmental organization to do or abstain from doing any act as an explicit condition for the release of the person detained, or attempts or conspires, shall be….”

This statute says that detaining somebody to force a third party, such as federal law enforcement agencies, to do any act is guilty of a felony offense. Perhaps a bank robber takes the bank teller as a hostage in an attempt to escape.

Notably, federal kidnapping charges or hostage-taking do not typically apply to issues involving the abducting of a minor by a parent, except for the crime of international parental kidnapping, when the child victim is under 16, and the defendant must have intended to violate another's parental (18 U.S.C. 1204).

What Does the Law Say?

As noted, a hostage taker is described as a person anyone who "seizes or detains and threatens to kill, to injure, or to continue to detain someone to compel a third person or a governmental organization to act in an explicit or implicit condition for the release of the detained person. or attempts or conspires…"

18 U.S. Code § 1203 - Hostage Taking
It's a federal offense under 18 U.S.C. 1203 to take a hostage and then cross state borders.

In 1984 this law was enacted as part of the International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages.

Specifically, it gives the United States government legal jurisdiction over taking hostages inside and outside the country but also defines that the statute does not cover.

Notably, 18 U.S.C. 1203 has several aspects that need to be understood.  For example, the law was written to apply to hostage situations outside the U.S. or when the hostage taker attempts to compel a government organization to action.

Further, the United States government will claim jurisdiction for kidnapping cases under the following conditions:

  • The hostage taker is a citizen of the United States;
  • The hostage taker is captured in the country, or
  • The government was compelled to act by the hostage situation;
  • The victim was transported in interstate or foreign commerce;
  • The defendant traveled in interstate commerce or used the mail;
  • The defendant uses interstate commerce to further the kidnapping;
  • The victim was abducted within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States;
  • The victim was abducted within the special aircraft jurisdiction;
  • The victim is a foreign official, an internationally protected person;
  • The victim is a designated federal officer or employee.

What Are the Related Federal Crimes?

Anyone accused of taking hostages under 18 U.S.C. 1203 could also be charged with additional or similar federal crimes. Some are listed under 18 U.S. Code Chapter 55 kidnapping. The related offenses include the following:

  • 18 U.S.C. 1201 - Kidnapping is described as abducting and holding somebody for ransom when interstate or international boundaries are crossed;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1202 - Receiving ransom money means to collect a ransom, such as money or property that is related to federal kidnapping;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1204 - International parental kidnapping;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2113 - Bank robbery, including the robbery of an armored truck, bank messenger, night depository, and an automatic teller machine (ATM);
  • 18 U.S.C. 2113(d) - Federal assault with a deadly weapon;
  • 18 U.S.C. 371 - Federal conspiracy statute.

What Are the Penalties for 18 U.S.C 1203? 

Suppose you are convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. 1203 hostage-taking law. In that case, the sentence will vary based on the case details, but the judge can impose a prison sentence for any length of time and up to life in prison. The penalties can include the following:

  • Attempted kidnapping carries up to 20 years in prison (18 U.S.C. 1201(d);
  • If the victim is under 18 and the defendant is not a close family member or legal custodian, the crime is punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years imprisonment (18 U.S.C. 1201(g).
  • Bank robbers could face a sentence of life in federal prison for holding someone hostage and a death sentence if someone detained was killed;
  • If someone dies in a hostage situation, whether hostage or not, the penalty increases to either life imprisonment or the death penalty

What Are the Defenses Against 18 U.S.C 1203?  

Contact our federal criminal defense lawyers to review the case if you or a family member is under a federal criminal investigation or have already been indicted for hostage-taking under United States Code, Title 18, Section 1203.

Defenses for Hostage Taking
Contact our law firm for a case review.

We may be able to work out a favorable resolution through negotiations with the federal prosecutor. If guilt is not in doubt, a plea agreement is in your best interest, but we are prepared to take the case to trial if necessary.

Perhaps we can argue that there is insufficient evidence to obtain a conviction or that you are the victim of mistaken identity. Maybe we can say that federal law enforcement agents violated your constitutional rights or that you are the victim of an unlawful search. We must first review all the case details to prepare an appropriate strategy.

We provide legal representation for federal criminal issues throughout the United States. You can contact us by phone or fill out the contact form for a free case consultation. The Hedding Law Firm has offices in Los Angeles, CA.

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