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Kidnapping, Coercion and Related Offenses

Article 135 of the Penal Law applies to kidnapping and other offenses involving the restraint of another person’s movements or actions. These charges arise most frequently in domestic situations where the accused and the alleged victim are related to one another.

Key Penal Law Provisions:

  • Unlawful imprisonment in the second degree, PL 135.05, a class misdemeanor
  • Unlawful imprisonment in the first degree, PL 135.10, a class E felony
  • Kidnapping in the second degree, PL 135.20, a class B felony
  • Kidnapping in the first degree, PL 135.25, a class A-I felony
  • Custodial interference in the second degree, PL 135.45, a class A misdemeanor
  • Custodial interference in the first degree, PL 135.50, a class E felony
  • Coercion in the second degree, PL 135.60, a class A misdemeanor
  • Coercion in the first degree, PL 135.65, a class D felony

Unlawful Imprisonment occurs when a person “restrains” another without their consent. To restrain a person means to intentionally and unlawfully restrict his movements in such manner as to interfere substantially with his liberty. It can be accomplished by either moving him from one place to another or by confining him in a place. There is no minimum time requirement; a person can be guilty of this charge for restraining another against their will for only an instant. Unlawful Imprisonment in the Second Degree is an A misdemeanor, and the E felony of Unlawful Imprisonment in the First Degree occurs where the restraint exposes the victim to a risk of serious physical injury. (Note: this charge does not apply to parents that ground their misbehaving children, as there is an explicit exception in Penal Law 135.15 ). These charges are most common in domestic violence situations where a man is alleged to have prevented his wife or girlfriend from leaving their apartment via force or intimidation.

Kidnapping occurs when a person “abducts” another person. To abduct someone means to restrain them without their consent with intent to prevent his rescue or escape by either hiding him in a place where is unlikely to be found, or by threatening to use – or using – deadly physical force. Kidnapping in the second degree is a very serious Class B felony, whereas Kidnapping in the First Degree is one of the most serious crimes in New York – a Class A-I felony. Kidnapping in the first degree requires proof that the accused either a) demanded ransom or some other act in exchange for the prisoner’s release, b) restrained the person for more than 12 hours with the intent to accomplish some other crime, such as the infliction of physical injury or sexual abuse, or c) that the victim died during the course of the abduction or before he or she was returned to safety.

Interestingly, however, these charges may not apply where the victim is related to the accused. In those cases where a relative takes a child away from his or her legal guardian for a protracted or permanent period of time while knowing that he has no legal right to do so, the relative can be charged with First or Second Degree Custodial interference (135.50 and 135.45), a Class E felony or a Class A misdemeanor, respectively, provided that his or her sole motive for the kidnapping is to “assume control of the person.” PL 135.30.

Finally, a person is guilty of coercion when he unlawfully compels or induces another person to do something that he does not have to do, or, to not do something that he has a right to do. Plainly put, coercion prohibits certain forms of intimidation. A person commits coercion if he unlawfully compels or induces another to engage in conduct which the other person has a legal right to abstain from engaging in, or to abstain from engaging in conduct in which he has a legal right to engage. This crime is committed by means of instilling in the coerced person a fear that if the intimidator’s demand is not complied with, the intimidator or another will cause physical injury to someone, cause damage to property, commit some other crime, accuse another person of a crime, expose a harmful secret, or commit any some other act or acts which might be calculated to harm another person materially with respect to their health, safety, business, calling, career, financial condition, reputation or personal relationships. This charge sometimes arises when people threaten others that are considering reporting crimes to the police, but obviously, this crime can apply to a wide range of intimidating conduct.

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