Kidnapping and Human Trafficking Defense Lawyers

Kidnapping and human trafficking are considered very serious crimes in North Carolina state court and under US federal law. Whether you are facing an investigation or charges in state or federal court for such crimes, hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is a must.

Kidnapping is generally defined as the crime of unlawfully confining, restraining or transporting a person without their consent, or the consent of their legal guardian if they are under the age of 16. Human Trafficking can involve recruiting, harboring, transporting, buying or kidnapping other people with the intent to make them serve an exploitative purpose.

Most forms of kidnapping and all forms of human trafficking are punished as serious felonies in North Carolina. There are also many situations where the federal government can get involved in a kidnapping or human trafficking cases, which can potentially result in steep fines and long-term or lifelong prison terms, especially if you do not retain an experienced attorney.

warehouse location where a kidnapping or human trafficking victim may be detained or tortured

Kidnapping Charges in North Carolina

There are several forms of kidnapping crimes with varying degrees of penalties based on the kinds of actions the defendant is being accused of. More serious crimes with steeper penalties generally require a higher burden of proof, such as proof of intent or causing serious injury or harm to the victim. It is important to note, however, that all kidnapping and related crimes are serious and almost all of them are treated as felonies in North Carolina.

North Carolina first classifies kidnapping by the degree, where first-degree is the most serious offense followed the second-degree kidnapping. Both these kidnapping crimes require proof of harmful intent, but there are other related crimes that do not need such proof and follow different definitions and elements to prove.

First-Degree Kidnapping

A person is guilty of this offense if they commit all of the following:

  1. Confine, restrain or remove any person from one place to another without their consent, or without the consent of their legal guardian if the person is younger than 16 years old,
  2. For the purposes of any of the following:
    • causing serious bodily harm to the victim or any other person
    • holding the victim in involuntary servitude
    • holding the victim hostage or for ransom
    • using the victim as a shield
    • using the victim to help commit a felony crime, or to help escape after committing a felony
    • terrorizing the victim or any other person
    • subjecting the victim to sexual servitude
  3. And does any one of the following:
    • does not release the victim in a safe place
    • seriously injures the victim
    • sexually assaults the victim

A conviction of this crime is punished as a Class C felony. If a firm or corporation is convicted of kidnapping, it will additionally be fined no less than $5,000 and no more than $100,00 and will forfeit its charter and right to do business in North Carolina.

Each of these elements is subject to a complicated web of unusual definitions and exceptions based on rulings from past-cases. This is one of many reasons why anybody facing such charges needs an experienced attorney, as their attorney can review the case and relate it to a large record of past cases to come up with an effective defense strategy. Among the complex definitions and exceptions, some that are most note-worthy include:

  • Kidnapping “without consent” can be achieved through fraud. For example, if a person persuades somebody to enter their property for a potential job offer but in fact intends to restrain and assault the victim, the victim did not consent and was kidnapped.
  • For victims under the age of 16, not knowing the victim’s age is not a valid defense.
  • A person can be kidnapped through being restrained or confined but not moved. For example, locking a person up in their own home or place of work against their will without moving them there is an act of kidnapping.

Second-Degree Kidnapping

Second-degree kidnapping is similar to first-degree kidnapping, but does not require any of the factors listed in element C above. In other words, it is like first-degree kidnapping but when there is no additional evidence of serious injury, sexual assault, or failing to release the victim in a safe place.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class E felony.

Felonious Restraint

A person is guilty of this offense when they unlawfully restrain another person without their consent, or without the consent of their legal guardian if they are below the age of 16, and transports the person from the initial place of restraint.

Essentially, this crime is treated as a “lesser-included offense” of kidnapping, meaning that if a person is guilty of either form of kidnapping, they are guilty of felonious restraint. The key difference is that felonious restraint does not require proof of any kind of intent, it simply needs proof of unlawful restraining and moving of another person.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class F felony.

False Imprisonment

A person is guilty of this offense if they intentionally and unlawfully restrain or detain a person without their consent.

As with felonious restraint, this crime is a lesser-included offense of kidnapping and is generally treated as a reduced offense when some of the elements needed to prove kidnapping are not well supported. The differences between false imprisonment and felonious restraint is that false imprisonment requires intent (but not for any of the reasons listed under kidnapping), but not does require moving the victim.

This is relatively the least serious kidnapping crime to be charged or convicted of, as a conviction is punished as a class 1 misdemeanor.

Abduction of a Child

A person is guilty of this offense if they, without legal justification or defense, abduct or induce a minor who is at least four years younger than the defendant to leave the minor’s lawful guardian.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class F felony.

There are a few key elements to note about this crime:

  • A lawful guardian can be any person, agency or institution lawfully entitled to the child’s custody, placement or care.
  • A noncustodial parent may be guilty of this offense if they abduct their child in violation of the terms of a child custody order.
  • This crime does not require physically removing or moving a child, it is enough to convince a child to leave their guardians unless their is a legal justification to do so.

Human Trafficking Charges in North Carolina

A person commits human trafficking when they knowingly recruit, entice, harbor, transport, provide or otherwise obtain another person with the intent that the other person will be held in involuntary servitude or sexual servitude.

A conviction of human trafficking is punished as a class F felony if the victim is an adult, or a class C felony if the victim is a minor. It is important to note that every violation of human trafficking is treated as a separate offense, and will not merge with other offenses. This means that for every alleged victim of trafficking is a separate charge against the defendant. Therefore, large-scale trafficking schemes can result in the defendant facing long-term of lifetime imprisonment due to multiple consecutive offenses.

Another important element of human trafficking offenses is that the act does not need to be done intentionally, but only “knowingly”. A person acts knowingly when they are aware of what they are doing, or know what the resulting consequences of their actions will be. This means that a person can be guilty of human trafficking if they are knowingly involved in a trafficking scheme. For example, if a person is knowingly transporting trafficking victims even if they do not personally want or intend for them to be trafficking, they can be guilty of this offense.

There are two key forms of human trafficking under North Carolina law, which are involuntary servitude and sexual servitude.

Involuntary Servitude

Involuntary servitude is defined as when a person is made to perform labor as a result of deception, coercion or intimidation using violence or the threat of violence.

In essence, a person is a victim of involuntary servitude when they perform labor against their will. This can still be the case if the person is receiving compensation or their labor, or if they are performing labor to fulfill a debt.

If a person knowingly and willfully holds somebody else in involuntary servitude, they will be guilty of a human trafficking crime. This means being punished with a class F felony if the victim was an adult, or a class C felony if the victim was under the age of 18.

Sexual Servitude

Sexual servitude is defined as when a person is made to perform any sexual activity through coercion, deception, or if the person is less than 18 years old.

In essence, a person is a victim of sexual servitude when they perform any sexual act against their will or as a result of fraud. This can include sexual activity in exchange for something or value or a promise of something of value, but this factor is not required.

If a person knowingly and willfully holds somebody else in sexual servitude, they will be guilty of a human trafficking crime. This means being punished with a class F felony if the victim was an adult, or a class C felony if the victim was under the age of 18.

Potential Federal Charges

Generally, kidnapping crimes are handled in the state in which the offense took place. Human trafficking is much more likely to involve federal prosecutors, as the crime may involve trafficking people across state or country lines. The following are some circumstances where the federal government may prosecute kidnapping or human trafficking:

  • The crime was committed in federal territory.
  • The victim(s) were transported across states or country borders.
  • Mail or any means of communication across state or foreign borders was used in furtherance of the offense.
  • The victim is a foreign official, international protected person, federal employee or federal elected official.
  • The crime involves forced slave labor or sexual servitude that the defendant benefits from by receiving anything of value. 

Penalties upon conviction of these crimes vary, and are generally much steeper and more harshly prosecuted than state crimes. For example, some human trafficking crimes, especially those involving sex trafficking of child victims or trafficking slave labor, can potentially result in a life sentence.

Defending Against Kidnapping or Human Trafficking Charges

Kidnapping and human trafficking cases, as shown above, involve an array of complex elements that prosecution needs to prove. Building a defense against these allegations requires a very detailed review of the specific case and an expert understanding of how past cases have been ruled with regards to the many elements involved.

These cases generally involve a lot of emotions, which can play a strong role in accusations, especially when accusations turn of to be false. If you have been falsely accused or arrested of this crime, your will need a lawyer who has the trial expertise to prove that you are innocent without further provoking any emotions in the courtroom.

As there are several tiers of kidnapping and trafficking crimes with different levels of penalties and requirements for proof, sometimes the best strategy is to negotiate for a lesser sentence or less severe charges on the basis of unsubstantial evidence. For example, a person may face charges for first-degree kidnapping but bring them down to much less serious false imprisonment charges if their lawyer can effectively question the majority of evidence presented by the prosecutors.

Our lawyers have successfully represented clients in kidnapping and human trafficking cases at state and federal levels and know how to carefully structure a defense based on the facts of the case. Most importantly, we are exceptionally skilled at taking these cases to trial, as we know the tactics used by prosecution that often push the defendant into a plea-bargaining position before a trial begins. If you would like to learn more about how we an help, or request a consultation with us, then leave us a message or call us today.


Request a Consultation

Page Contents

Related Practice Areas

Request a Consultation