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What Is Considered Kidnapping? Are There Degrees of It?

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Kidnapping Offenses in Texas

Most people are aware that the crime of kidnapping involves taking or abducting a person. In Texas, the legal definition for kidnapping can be found in Section 20.03 of the Texas Penal Code. In this section, the law states that kidnapping is the act of knowingly or intentionally abducting another person. The same section defines abduction as the act of restricting a person’s freedom by hiding or concealing that person or threatening to use deadly force.

These definitions are fairly straightforward but there are several degrees of kidnapping under Texas law. When kidnapping is combined with other illegal actions, more severe charges may be filed. In some cases, there may be legitimate legal defenses to charges of kidnapping that could result in the charges being dropped.

Levels of Kidnapping Offenses

There are three levels of kidnapping offenses under Texas law:

  • First degree
  • Second degree
  • Third degree

Third degree kidnapping offenses are simply referred to as kidnapping while second and first degree kidnapping offenses can be called aggravated kidnapping.

Third degree kidnapping is a crime that involves knowingly or intentionally abducting another person. This charge can be upgraded to aggravated kidnapping if:

  • The person was abducted to be held for ransom
  • The person was abducted to be used as a hostage or shield
  • The person was abducted to help commit a felony or when fleeing the scene after a felony has been committed
  • The person was abducted in order to inflict violence or sexual abuse on them
  • The person was abducted to interfere with a government or political function
  • The person was abducted with the use of a deadly weapon

According to the law, an aggravated kidnapping offense is a first degree offense. However, if a person commits an aggravated kidnapping offense and willingly releases the kidnapping victim in a safe place, it may be possible for the charge to be reduced to second degree kidnapping.

Legal Penalties

The penalties for a kidnapping conviction can be severe and they may vary based on the nature of the original incident. For example, a person who is convicted of kidnapping of the third degree for abducting another person could face:

  • A third degree felony conviction
  • Imprisonment for up to 10 years
  • A fine of up to $10,000

A person who commits aggravated kidnapping but releases the victim to a safe place may face penalties including:

  • A second degree felony conviction
  • Imprisonment for up to 20 years
  • A fine of up to $10,000

A person who is convicted of first degree felony kidnapping could face:

  • Five to 99 years in prison
  • A fine of up to $10,000

Legal Defenses

The definition of kidnapping under Texas state law includes a provision for admissible legal defenses. According the the Penal Code, it is a defense against prosecution if:

  • The person who committed the abduction did not use or threaten to use deadly force
  • The person who committed the abduction is related to the victim
  • The person who committed the abduction was only attempting to gain legal and lawful control of the victim

This legal defense may often appear in parental custody disputes. For example, if one spouse has been granted custody and the other spouse refuses to give up the child, the custodial parent may take the child. As long as they don’t use threats and are solely trying to regain custody, they may have a legitimate defense to prosecution.

The issue of consent may come up in kidnapping cases. For example, if the person who committed the abduction claims that the victim consented to be taken, that claim may be irrelevant. Consent of the victim does not legalize abduction. This is why the law does not mention consent and it only mentions the act of “knowingly and intentionally” abducting a person.

However, the issue of consent may be important in a trial. A defense attorney may be able to use the consent of the victim and the relationship of the alleged abductor and victim to show that the intent to commit harm was not present. With enough evidence, this could cause a charge of first degree kidnapping to be lowered to a third degree charge. If successful, this could seriously decrease the severity of a defendant’s sentence.


The Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky can provide strong legal protection if you have been charged with a crime. Call his office today at 713-227-0087.

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