kidnapping, in law, the taking away of a person by force, threat, or deceit, with intent to cause him to be detained against his will. Kidnapping may be done for ransom or for political or other purposes. A parent whose legal rights to custody of a child have been revoked can be guilty of the crime for taking the child. Consent of a kidnapped person is a defense, unless given by one legally incompetent at the time (e.g., a minor or a mentally ill person). The crime differs from abduction, in that the intent of sexual intercourse is not required, and from false imprisonment, in which there is no attempt to abduct.
Under common law kidnapping was only a misdemeanor, but in most states of the United States it is now punishable by death or life imprisonment if there are no extenuating circumstances. The kidnapping and murder of the son of Charles A. Lindbergh in 1932 led to a federal statute prescribing severe penalties for transporting the victims of kidnapping across state or national boundaries. The practice of kidnapping, in the wider and not strictly legal sense, has been known since the beginnings of history. It was common as a method for procuring slaves, and it has also been employed by brigands and revolutionaries to obtain money through ransom or to hold hostages whose safe release was dependent on the freeing of political prisoners.