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Parents can be convicted of kidnapping

Posted on October 06, 2011 3:00 AM EST

The Florida Supreme Court affirmed a conviction and held that parents can be charged and convicted of kidnapping their own children. A Miami-Dade County jury convicted Ricardo Davilla of kidnapping his 11 year-old son in Sweetwater at the family's home soon after arriving from Nicaragua. At trial, testimony came out that the defendant tied up the child, locked him up for weeks at time in closets and bathrooms and repeatedly beat him with a broomstick. Other allegations include that the child was sometimes blindfolded and gagged with a handkerchief. The defendant claimed that the child was being punished for lying and failing to wash dishes. Miami criminal lawyers often defend kidnapping charges, however, defending parents charged with crimes is highly atypical.

Kidnapping is a first degree felony punishable by up to life in prison. The charge often accompanies other charges like carjacking, home invasion robbery and armed robbery. Kidnapping can occur in a variety of ways. First, kidnapping is defined as forcibly, secretly, or by threat confining, abducting, or imprisoning another person against his or her will. It is also the same definition attributed to false imprisonment. For kidnapping to occur, the defendant must also (1) hold a victim for ransom or reward, or (2) wrongfully imprison someone during the commission of a felony, or (3) inflict bodily harm upon someone or terrorize the victim, or (4) interfere with the performance of any governmental or political function. The defendant was charged and convicted of kidnapping based on the bodily harm and terror inflicted upon the child.

The child's mother was also charged with multiple counts of aggravated child abuse, child neglect and false imprisonment. After the jury convicted the mother, the judge sentenced her to 30 years in prison. The Supreme Court upheld the father's conviction by a 6 to 1 vote. The chief justice dissented by saying, "It is by no means obvious that the kidnapping statute is aimed at protecting young children from their own custodial parents." While the law certainly allows for parents to discipline their children, there are limits. Cases have been handed down which delineate the difference between acceptable punishment and child abuse.

Corporal punishment of children has also been permitted with limits. The law generally frowns on parents using objects as belts and paddles, with criminal charges generally being filed for parents who use extension cords and coat hangers. Prosecutors take cases where marks or welts are left on children after the physical punishment has been delivered. Parents who go overboard with physical punishment can and will charged with aggravated child abuse which under Florida law is a second degree felony punishable up to 15 years in prison. While criminal attorneys are retained to defend these types of charges, the best advice is to use restraint when punishing your children.

Florida Parental Kidnapping Conviction Affirmed, Miami Herald.com, October 6, 2011.