What Are The Legal Differences Between Kidnapping and False Imprisonment?


Kidnapping and false imprisonment may seem like the same thing at first glance since they both involve taking the liberty of another person without their consent. However, these two crimes are considered separate for good reason, as there are some key differences between kidnapping someone and holding them prisoner. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at both.


Most people assume they know what kidnapping means, but there are actually two different kinds of kidnapping: simple kidnapping and aggravated kidnapping. Aggravated kidnapping is when someone kidnaps a child under the age of 14, causes serious bodily harm to the kidnapee, or uses the kidnapping to demand ransom. On the other hand, simple kidnapping involves moving a person to a second location without their consent, either through the use of threats, fraud, or restraints. Restraints may be ropes or ties, or drugs that cause the victim to become unconscious or unable to fight back.


The key to a kidnapping charge is moving the victim to a secondary location. This location must be a “substantial distance” from where the victim was taken. There is no exact measurement on what is considered substantial, and some lawyers choose to argue that just moving the victim to another room counts as substantial enough. Other factors in the crime involve whether the move put the victim at higher risk for harm and whether the move lowered the perpetrator’s risk of being caught.

For example, a defendant may have grabbed someone walking down the road and pulled her into his vehicle. The actual moving of the victim from the sidewalk into the car was just a couple of feet, so the distance, in terms of measurement, is not very substantial. However, by using a vehicle, the defendant now had the chance to escape the scene of the crime, meaning that his risk of getting caught was lowered. Also, by being in the car, the victim was at higher risk of danger, as her options for escape were extremely limited. Even if the defendant got stopped by the police before driving away, and was unable to take the victim anywhere, it may still be considered a kidnapping crime, as two of the three substantial distance criteria have been met.

False Imprisonment

False imprisonment can seem almost indistinguishable from kidnapping. After all, it involves holding someone against their will, similar to kidnapping. However, if kidnapping is the act of moving someone without their content, then false imprisonment is the act of keeping someone in one place without their consent. False imprisonment is defined under most legislation as the “unlawful violation of the personal liberty of another.” If you confine, restrain, or detain someone from leaving a location, then you are committing the crime of false imprisonment.

For example, if a husband refuses to let his wife leave their home, despite her begging to be let out, then he would be committing false imprisonment. This could involve simply keeping her there for an hour during a heated argument, or it could be as serious as locking all the doors and windows and never allowing her to set foot outside the building. While one is certainly more understandable than the other, they could both result in a charge. The perpetrator doesn’t have to threaten or harm the victim in order for it to become illegal. The only requirement is that one person keeps another from leaving a certain location.


When the Two Meet

In the husband-and-wife example above, the husband would only be guilty of false imprisonment, since he did not move his wife from one location to another. However, these two crimes often intersect. If we revisit the first kidnapping example, where the kidnapper pulled his victim into his car, if he then took off and drove to his house and threw the victim into his basement and locked the door, then he would be guilty of both kidnapping and false imprisonment.

When kidnappings are successful, and a perpetrator is able to take the victim to a second location, it often involves an element of false imprisonment – that is, not letting the victim leave. This means that if you have been accused of kidnapping, it is likely you will also be facing a charge of false imprisonment.

The crime of kidnapping involves between three and eight years in prison, while false imprisonment usually results in between one and three years in prison. If a person is convicted of both, it could mean more than a decade behind bars. The sentence could be made even longer depending on certain aggravating factors such as the age of the victim, the amount of harm done to them, and the reasoning behind the kidnapping to begin with.

Do you feel these sentences are too harsh? Too lenient? Do you know of someone who has been kidnapped or falsely imprisoned? Share your experiences and views in the comments section below.

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