Penal Code 209 - Kidnapping for Ransom or to Commit a Crime

California Penal Code 209 PC is the California statute that enhances the penalties for kidnapping when it is done either:

Kidnapping for ransom and kidnapping to commit a crime are forms of aggravated kidnapping. Aggravated kidnapping is a more serious charge than ordinary kidnapping, under Penal Code 207, and carries a harsher sentence.

Examples of illegal acts under PC 209 include:

  • John kidnaps a boy, moves him into his apartment, and calls the boy's parents demanding a ransom for his release.
  • Marcos forces a homeowner into the owner's garage, locks him inside, and then robs the home.
  • Tabitha kidnaps a police officer and keeps him held at gun point until her boyfriend is released from custody.

Defenses

Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a person can raise if accused of kidnapping under Penal Code 209. These include showing that an accused party was:

Penalties

Kidnapping for ransom or to commit a crime is charged as a felony (as opposed to a California misdemeanor or an infraction). The crime is punishable by imprisonment in the California State Prison for life – with or without the possibility of parole.

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

aggravated kidnapping california
Kidnapping for ransom and kidnapping to commit a crime are forms of aggravated kidnapping.

1. What is the legal definition of kidnapping for ransom or to commit a crime?

California Penal Code 209(a) PC states that it is a crime for a person to kidnap another party “for ransom, reward or to commit extortion or to exact from another person any money or valuable thing.”1

California Penal Code 209(b) states that it is a crime for a person to kidnap another party in order to commit:

Both types of kidnapping in code section 209(a) and 209(b) are forms of aggravated kidnapping.

Aggravated kidnapping is a more serious charge than ordinary, or simple, kidnapping.

"Kidnapping," under California law, is the act of moving a victim a substantial distance, using force or fear to do so.3 The moving of the victim must also come without the victim's consent.

"Force or fear" means that a defendant either:

  • inflicted physical force upon the alleged victim, or
  • threatened to inflict imminent physical harm upon the alleged victim.

2. What are the legal defenses to accusations under Penal Code 209?

A person accused under PC 209 can challenge the accusation by raising a legal defense. A good defense can often get a charge reduced or even dismissed. Please note, though, that it is critical for an accused to hire an attorney to get the most effective defense.

Three common defenses to PC 209 accusations are:

  1. innocent of kidnapping;
  2. coerced confession; and/or,
  3. no probable cause.

2.1. Innocent of kidnapping

Penal Code 209 makes it a crime for a person to kidnap another party for ransom or to commit a crime. This means a person cannot get convicted under the code section if he is innocent of the underlying offense of kidnapping itself. A party can try to show that he is not guilty of kidnapping by proving that he did not do any of the following:

  • move an alleged victim,
  • a substantial distance,
  • using force or fear to do so.

2.2. Coerced confession

This defense applies to the situation where a defendant was charged under PC 209 following a confession.

California law states that police may not use overbearing measures to coerce a confession.

If a party can show that the police coerced him into a confession, then:

  1. The judge may exclude the confession from evidence; or,
  2. The case could get dropped altogether if the party got pressured into confessing to a crime he didn't commit.

2.3. No probable cause

This line of defense tries to exclude evidence that is being used against a defendant for a PC 209 violation.

If a person was stopped or arrested without probable cause, then any evidence obtained following the improper stop/arrest could get excluded from the case. This exclusion could result in the dismissal or reduction in charges.

California law says that a police officer must have probable cause to detain or arrest a suspect. “Probable cause” essentially means that there is a reasonable belief that someone committed a crime (based on all of the circumstances).

man behind bars aggravated kidnapping california
A violation of Penal Code 209 PC is charged as a felony and results in prison time.

3. Penalties, Punishment, and Sentencing

A violation of Penal Code 209 PC is charged as a felony (as opposed to a California misdemeanor or an infraction). The punishment for the crime, though, differs as to whether a person is guilty under PC 209(a) or PC 209(b).

If a defendant is accused of kidnapping for ransom, and the victim suffers death or bodily harm, then he will face imprisonment in the California state prison for life without the possibility of parole. If no death or bodily harm, then the defendant will face life in prison with the possibility of parole.4

If an accused is guilty of kidnapping to commit a crime, then he will be punished with imprisonment in the California state prison for life with the possibility of parole.5

If a person is guilty under either Penal Code 209(a) or 209(b), and felony probation is granted, Penal Code 209(c) says that the defendant must typically serve 12 months in the county jail as a condition of the probation.6

4. Related Offenses

There are three crimes related to kidnapping for ransom/to commit a crime. These are:

  1. kidnapping – PC 207;
  2. kidnapping of a minor child under the age of 14; and,
  3. kidnapping during the commission of a carjacking – PC 209.5

4.1. Kidnapping – PC 207

Kidnapping is a crime in California per Penal Code 207.

As stated above, “kidnapping" is moving a victim a substantial distance, using force or fear to do so.

A person violates Penal Code 207 when he:

  • moves another person
  • a substantial distance
  • without that person's consent
  • by using force or fear.7

"Force or fear" means that a defendant:

  • inflicted physical force upon the alleged victim, or
  • threatened to inflict imminent physical harm.

"Simple" kidnapping is a felony, subjecting a person to up to 8 years in the California state prison.8 Aggravated kidnapping...also a felony...carries a sentence of five years to life, depending on the facts of the case.

4.2. Kidnapping of a minor child under the age of 14 – PC 208

Kidnapping a child under the age of 14 is a crime per California Penal Code 208b PC.

A prosecutor must prove four elements in order to successfully convict a defendant under PC 208. These are:

  1. he moved a minor under the age of 14,
  2. a substantial distance,
  3. without the minor's consent,
  4. by using force or fear.9

As with simple kidnapping, “force or fear" means that a defendant either:

  • inflicted physical force upon the alleged victim, or
  • threatened to inflict imminent physical harm upon the alleged victim.

Penal Code 208 does not apply to the following parties:

  • a biological parent,
  • a child's adopted parents, and
  • a court appointed guardian.

A violation of PC 208 is charged as a felony. The crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the California State Prison for 5, 8, or 11 years; and,
  • a possible maximum fine of $10,000.10

4.3. Kidnapping during the commission of a carjacking – PC 209.5

California Penal Code 209.5 makes it a crime for a person to kidnap another person during the commission of a carjacking.

A party violates Penal Code 209.5 PC when he:

  1. moves the victim beyond what is merely incidental to the carjacking,
  2. moves the victim a substantial distance from the area of the carjacking, and
  3. the movement of the victim increases the risk of harm over and above that necessary to commit the carjacking.11

A conviction for violating Penal Code 209.5 PC subjects the offender to life in prison with the possibility of parole.12

Were you accused of kidnapping for ransom or kidnapping to commit a crime in California? Call us for help…

shouse california law group criminal defense attorneys
Call us at 855-LAWFIRM

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime, under California Penal Code 209, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LAWFIRM.

(For accusations or charges of kidnapping in Nevada, please see our article on Nevada "Kidnapping" Laws (NRS 200.310)). And, for accusations or charges of kidnapping in Colorado, please see our article on Colorado "Kidnapping" Laws (18-3-301 & 18-3-302 C.R.S.)).


Legal References:

  1. California Penal Code 209(a) PC. This code section states: “Any person who seizes, confines, inveigles, entices, decoys, abducts, conceals, kidnaps or carries away another person by any means whatsoever with intent to hold or detain, or who holds or detains, that person for ransom, reward or to commit extortion or to exact from another person any money or valuable thing, or any person who aids or abets any such act, is guilty of a felony, and upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for life without possibility of parole in cases in which any person subjected to any such act suffers death or bodily harm, or is intentionally confined in a manner which exposes that person to a substantial likelihood of death, or shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for life with the possibility of parole in cases where no such person suffers death or bodily harm.”

  2. California Penal Code 209(b) PC. This code section states: “Any person who kidnaps or carries away any individual to commit robbery, rape, spousal rape, oral copulation, sodomy, or any violation of Section 264.1, 288, or 289, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for life with the possibility of parole.”

  3. California Penal Code 207 PC.

  4. California Penal Code 209(a) PC.

  5. California Penal Code 209(b) PC.

  6. California Penal Code 209(c) PC.

  7. California Penal Code 207 PC.

  8. California Penal Code 208(a) PC.

  9. California Penal Code 208 PC.

  10. See same.

  11. California Penal Code 209.5 PC.

  12. See same.

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