The Florida Supreme Court ruled this week that a parent can be charged with kidnapping his own child, overruling a lower court’s prior ruling. In the case of Davila v. State, the Defendant was charged with kidnapping his 11-year-old son by tying him up and locking him in a bathroom for several weeks. During that time, the Defendant repeatedly hit the child with a broomstick and kept him bound and blindfolded. The Defendant still had his parental rights over the boy at the time.
Although people generally think kidnapping means merely illegally taking custody of a child, it has a very different and a very specific definition in Florida. In Florida, kidnapping is legally defined as confining, abducting, or imprisoning a person against his will either forcibly, secretly, or by threat with the intent to: (1) hold a person for ransom or as a hostage, (2) to commit a felony crime, or (3) to inflict bodily harm or terrorize. When the victim of the kidnapping is a child, the law states that “Confinement of a child under the age of 13 is against her or his will within the meaning of this subsection if such confinement is without the consent of her or his parent or legal guardian.”
The lower court reasoned that since the confinement couldn’t be without the parent’s consent if he was the one doing the confining, then the parent couldn’t be convicted of kidnapping his child. This week, the Supreme Court resoundingly disagreed.
The Court reasoned that lack of parental consent is one way that the prosecution can prove that the confinement was against the child’s will, but it’s not the only way. In fact, the Court said that the Government does not have to prove a lack of parental consent to establish the crime of kidnapping. Instead, the State must only prove the intent of the parent was to hold the child hostage, to commit a felony against the child, or harm or terrorize the child. The Supreme Court therefore upheld the conviction and the Defendant was sentenced to life in prison.