United States kidnapping laws have been derived from common law principles of kidnapping developed by courts in England. The early common law defined the offense of kidnapping as the forcible abduction or stealing of a man, woman, or child from his or her own country and sending him or her into another country. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, states began to redefine kidnapping, most notably eliminating the requirement of interstate transport. Gradually, the involuntary detention of the victim became an important factor of kidnapping. The kidnapping statutes aim at securing the personal liberty of citizens and assistance of law necessary to release them from unlawful restraint. The federal kidnapping statute, also known as the Lindbergh Act, prohibits interstate kidnapping. There are federal kidnapping statutes which prohibit kidnapping in U.S. territories, kidnapping on the high seas and in the air, and kidnapping of government officials. Each state also has its own kidnapping laws.
Generally, kidnapping occurs when a person, without lawful authority, physically transports or moves another person without that other person’s consent, with the intent to use the abduction in connection with some other nefarious objective. Under the Model Penal Code, which is a set of exemplary criminal rules shaped by the American Law Institute, kidnapping occurs when any person is unlawfully and non-consensually asported and held for following purposes: (a) to hold for ransom or reward, or as a shield or hostage; (b) to facilitate the commission of any flight or felony thereafter; (c) to inflict bodily injury on or to terrorize the victim or another; or (d) to interfere with the performance of any governmental or political function.