Two people are facing charges of child abduction in Virginia after they reportedly refused to surrender custody of their 1-year-old child, as per a court order.
D.C. criminal defense attorneys know that while we hear so much about stranger kidnappings, the fact is, most child kidnappings involve at least one of the parents or a close family member.
Parental kidnapping is when a parent either takes, keeps or hides a child from the other parent, another family member or other guardian in violation of custody arrangements or rights.
D.C. Code 22-2001 defines kidnapping as the aiding, abetting, seizing, confining, enticing, decoying, kidnapping, carrying away, concealing, abducting or holding and detaining a person. This charge is considered a Class A felony, which means a conviction could result in up to 30 years in prison.
There is also D.C. Code 16-1021-1024, which forbids parents, relatives or others from concealing a child from the other parent or person who has legal custody. People who aid someone in this action can also be charged criminally.
If the charge is filed as a misdemeanor, the result will usually be a fine, probation and community service. If it's charged as a felony, but the child was out of lawful custody for less than a month, the parent could face up to six months in jail. If, however, the term the child is concealed is longer than a month, you could serve up to a year with fines of up to $5,000.
You may in some cases be able to have the charge pleaded down to a misdemeanor if you return the child to a safe place without injury prior to your arrest.
This is why, No. 1, a good family law attorney is key to hopefully avoiding such a situation in the first place. But it's also critical if you are arrested for child kidnapping or other domestic event that you hire an experienced criminal attorney. You can't assume that just because the "kidnapped" person involved is your own child that the court won't take it very seriously and impose a maximum sentence.
The U.S. Justice Department estimates that more than 350,000 children are abducted each year by family members. In about half of these cases, the kids were taken across state lines. Some were even taken out of the country.
Interestingly, prior to the late 1960s, a parent who abducted his or her child actually stood a great chance of being awarded custody in the end, as custody was typically given on the basis of the parent's actual physical presence with the child. But then the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act, a federal measure, made it so that there is interstate recognition of custody agreements throughout the country. So the custody agreement that is valid in Virginia is also valid in D.C. and Maryland and throughout the U.S.
Some legal defenses to these charges include:
- If the child was taken in order to prevent him or her from immediate physical harm;
- If the child was taken in the course of protecting the parent from imminent physical harm;
- If the act was consented to by the other parent;
- If the action was otherwise authorized by law.
In this case out of Virginia, the child was legally in the custody of child protective service workers, though she was placed in the home of a relative. The couple were supposed to return her to child protective services, but instead did not arrive.
Police issued an Amber Alert, alleging the child could be in "extreme danger." However, the three were found a short time later in Prince George, with the child unharmed.