Whether you are a parent or not, receiving an Amber Alert on your phone should make the hairs on your neck stand up. When that alert has been issued, you know someone’s child has either gone missing or is in the process of being kidnapped. Child abductions are a phenomenon that, unfortunately, are still occurring at higher rates each year.
Here is a glimpse into how often children go missing in California.
How Many Children Go Missing in California Each Year?
According to the California Department of Justice, 60,346 children went missing in 2021. From the different classifications, a majority of children who went missing were runaways, who accounted for 57,136 of the missing children.
The next classification with the highest rate of missing children was children abducted by family members, who accounted for 1,518 of the missing children. The next classification of missing children was children who went missing due to unknown circumstances, which accounted for 1,117 of the missing children.
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How Does the State of California Define Child Abduction?
California defines child abduction as the deliberate taking or concealing of a child to keep them away from their legal custodian. Child abduction is a criminal offense committed by strangers, family members, and friends. Parents, in particular, can be guilty of child abduction when they are not the legal guardians of their child or do not have custody of their child.
Why Do Parents Commit Child Abduction?
Parents commit child abduction for various reasons. One of the main reasons is to protect the child from the perceived physical and emotional harm the other parent is causing. Parents who commit child abduction feel they are preventing their child from being exposed to dangerous activity in the other parent’s care.
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What Are the Elements of Child Abduction?
For you to be convicted of child abduction, the following elements must be proven:
- You did not have a legal right to custody of the child.
- The child is under 18 years old.
- You withheld or concealed the child.
- You intentionally prevented lawful visitation or custody of the child.
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If a Child Agrees to Go with the Parent, Can the Parent Still Be Held Liable for Child Abduction?
Yes. It does not matter whether the child agreed to go with the parent. If the parent meets the elements of the child abduction charge and deliberately violates custody visitation, the parent will be found guilty of child abduction.
Is There a Difference Between Child Abduction and Kidnapping?
Yes. There are a few key differences between child abduction and kidnapping. Child abduction is a crime committed against the other parent and happens when there is an unlawful interference with child custody matters.
Kidnapping is a crime committed against the child and involves the forcible taking of another person with the intent of causing harm. Kidnapping is also a crime that can happen to children and adults. It is a serious crime that can happen to a victim of any age.
What Are the Legal Penalties for Child Abduction?
Child abduction is what California would consider a “wobbler” crime. That means the crime has the potential to be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony. If your child abduction charge has been classified as a misdemeanor, you could be at risk of facing up to one year in jail and a fine of $1,000.
Even worse, you could lose your visitation rights and have a protective order placed on you. If your child abduction charge has been classified as a felony, you could face prison time ranging from 16 months to 3 years, in addition to a $10,000 fine. You also risk placing a protective order on you and losing your visitation rights with your child.
What Factors Determine Whether Your Child Abduction Charge Will Be a Misdemeanor or Felony?
When considering the legal penalties of your child abduction charge, the courts will determine certain factors of your incident. Some of these factors include:
- Whether you exposed your child to significant physical injury
- Whether you threatened physical harm to the other parent during the abduction
- Whether the child was harmed during the abduction
- Whether the child was taken outside of the United States
- If the child was returned to the lawful custodian
- If you have a prior history of abducting or threatening to abduct the child
- If the child’s appearance was altered
- If the child’s ability to receive an education was denied during the abduction
What Are Some Potential Defenses Against Child Abduction?
There is so much on the line when you have been charged with a child abduction charge. Although the situation seems dire, there are legal defenses that you can use to defend yourself against your charge. Some of these defenses include false accusation, protection of the child, and lack of malicious conduct.
Unfortunately, many parents falsely accuse the other parent of abducting their child out of resentment or if the parents are involved in a bitter custody battle. For this defense to be effectively used, there must be a lack of sufficient evidence that can convict you of child abduction.
Protection of the Child
This defense could be used if you reasonably believed your child was in imminent danger. This danger could include physical injury, child abuse, neglect, or abandonment.
Lack of Malicious Conduct
One of the elements that must be proven in a child abduction charge is that malicious conduct occurred. This malicious conduct includes intentionally taking or concealing the child from the lawful custodian. If there was a mistake or you had reason to believe that you had full right to visitation of the child, this defense can be used in your favor.
Contact a Skilled Los Angeles Lawyer Today
When you have been charged with child abduction, you need an experienced lawyer on your side as soon as possible. Contact our legal team today for a free, confidential case evaluation to learn more about how you can protect your rights as a parent.