If someone was in the process of kidnapping your baby and you were chasing after that person, if you have a gun on you and you use it to shoot that person and then that person dies, would you be charged with murder?

  • 2
    The law is different in each state, DC, and other territories.
    – phoog
    Sep 19, 2018 at 20:14
  • 3
    Short answer: usually no.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 19, 2018 at 22:47
  • 1
    "Someone was in the process of kidnapping" is a bit vague. Do you mean a stranger or one of the parents (that wants custody) of the child, for example? Nov 20, 2021 at 16:14
  • Is the kidnapping by force or deception (pretending to be police, teacher, etc)? Does they child go voluntarily? Is the person holding your baby at the time you chase? There's a difference between stopping a crime, and shooting someone who previously attempted a crime but now poses no threat, and shooting someone who claims to be a social worker but may not have legal authority. Also, if you abandon the baby to chase, or conversely shoot someone holding your baby, that might be relevant.
    – Stuart F
    May 18, 2022 at 14:24
  • It depends on the circumstances. Was the child in danger? For example a parent without custody is unlikely to harm the baby. Was killing necessary to protect the child? Pointing a gun from a short distance will likely be convincing enough without killing the person.
    – gnasher729
    May 20, 2022 at 7:56

4 Answers 4


What you are charged with - murder and the appropriate degree, manslaughter, felony assault or other crime - depends on the local or federal prosecutor (and possibly a grand jury), the jurisdiction and how the prosecutor views the evidence; and if the prosecutor feels they can win a conviction against you in front of a jury for the charges.

The prosecutor will look at the evidence and try to determine your motive and what actually happened: did you want to kill the kidnapper, i.e. use deadly force to stop the crime? Did you only want to wound the kidnapper and save your baby? Did you only want to wound the kidnapper but inadvertently killed him/her? Was it possible to stop the kidnapping without using force at all? Did you first try to stop the kidnapping without deadly force and then resort to shooting the kidnapper? Did you endanger others in the area by shooting?

Those details all factor into the prosecutor's decision on which of the different degrees of murder, manslaughter, etc., to charge the parent with (or, not charge). See What Is Manslaughter? What Is Murder vs. Manslaughter? | Nolo.com.

Once the prosecutor decides on charges, they will try and win a conviction against you in front of a jury for the charges.

The prosecutor could possibly decide that the case already been tried in the court of public opinion - the person saving their baby and shooting a criminal is too sympathetic to charge with a crime - and there is no use in bringing charges and not getting a conviction from the jury.

Or, the prosecutor could decide that you were legally defending yourself and family and potentially deadly force was justified; this will greatly depend on jurisdiction, i.e. the different types of "Stand Your Ground" laws or other similar laws regarding self-defense in different states.

You may be confusing the idea of being charged with a crime and actually being of a convicted of a crime. The prosecutor can charge you with a crime and take you to court, but unless the jury convicts you on the basis of evidence, you won't be convicted.

  • I think if a bystander were to witness the kidnapping and recorded some or all of the chase and shooting on their smartphone, then this video if shown in court would probably influence the jury and/or judge not to convict the parent, especially if the parent repeatedly shouted 'Stop' to the kidnapper before the shooting.
    – user20867
    Sep 19, 2018 at 17:17
  • Sure that's possible; but the possible existence of exculpatory evidence wasn't your question. Sep 19, 2018 at 17:39
  • you're right in pointing that out. Please disregard my comment.
    – user20867
    Sep 19, 2018 at 18:26
  • There are concepts of pefect and imperfect self-defense, where the former denotes that the self-defense was justifiable and the most mininum available force to stop the crime. Imperfect self-defense shows that there was reason to claim self-defense but the actions used were unjustifiable given the situation (i.e. You don't need to shoot an assailant if he is fleeing the brandished gun).
    – hszmv
    Nov 13, 2018 at 16:55

Assuming the United States, the general rule is that Self-Defense extends to defense of others in similar situations and your immediate care. As your baby is your responsibility, you may protect the child in the same manner as any propety you may protect. There may be some issues with states that have duty to flee (which is to say, you do not have the right to invoke self-defense if flight is a valid choice) vs. Stand your ground (if you have a legal right to be in that place, you have a right to defend yourself regardless of viable flight options).

There could be some problems if the baby may have been threatened by reckless endangerment by you shooting at a moving target, holding a live human, who is fleeing, but the prosecutor is going to have one difficult case convincing twelve people at random (some of whom are definitely parents) that the shooter was more of a threat to his/her own child than the kidnapper. Consider the case of the Father who nearly assaulted the Gymnastics Team doctor who sexually molested his two daughters (as well as anyone in the room) in open court in front of the judge! From an objective and strictly legal read of the law, the judge was well within her right to throw the book at this man for contempt of court, let alone attempted assault and possible an aggravated one at that. However, given the factors motivating the man's actions, she decided not to press the charges and let him off with a very strongly worded reprimand which carries no legal weight (U.S. Judges are very territorial in their own court. Do not get one mad at you.) and I think a restriction to the back up court room where the trial was being played live on TV. She likely figured the Contempt charge (which she is judge and jury for those) and the assault charge (which, as this happened on live national tv, was widely popular... to the extent that saying the only three people who were likely to convict the man were in that court: The Doctor, who was in fear of his life, the Balif, who now has to do paperwork, and the Judge, who was more offended that it happened in her court than she was offended it happened at all.) would likely not found an unbiased panel of 12 of his peers.

  • I think this would be an antagonizing decision for the pursing parent... if he/she decides not to shoot and the kidnapper escapes with their baby, then the parent will be haunted for the rest of their life with the thought that he/she had the opportunity to stop the kidnapper but decided against it.
    – user20867
    Sep 19, 2018 at 17:22
  • 1
    @FanofComets As a parent this would not be a "decision", if somebody is taking my child and I have a means to stop it, the course is clear, consequences be damned. Most parents wouldn't stop and think "I wonder if this is legal"...
    – Ron Beyer
    Sep 19, 2018 at 17:37
  • 2
    @RonBeyer they might worry about shooting the child by mistake, though, and whether they would or not, they should think about whether nonlethal means exist to prevent the kidnapping before using lethal force against the kidnapper.
    – phoog
    Sep 19, 2018 at 20:16
  • 3
    Duty to flee can't apply if you're defending a baby (unless you have the opportunity to grab them and run.) After all, fleeing does nothing to defend the baby.
    – D M
    Nov 13, 2018 at 0:02
  • 2
    "As your baby is your responsibility, you may protect the child in the same manner as any propety you may protect." - Defense of people and defense of property are covered under different laws (which of course vary by state), and in any case it is not required that the baby must be your responsibility for you to be able to legally defend it from kidnapping.
    – D M
    Nov 13, 2018 at 0:04

In England the answer is an unequivocal maybe. The law certainly gives you the right to act in self-defence of someone other than yourself and to use any level of reasonable force to do so, up to and including actions that result in the death of the other person.

A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances for the purposes of : defence of another [and] prevention of crime

CPS.Gov.UK - Self-Defence and the Prevention of Crime

The question of whether your actions were 'reasonable' is a subjective decision made by the Crown Prosecution Service but they have a broad latitude to decide whether or not to prosecute. Based on your description, there are some aggravating factors (that a firearm was used, that the person died as a direct result of having been shot) and some mitigating factors (a child was being kidnapped, that it was your own child, that the person was fleeing the scene of a crime, that the victim was potentially in danger).

On balance I think it's highly unlikely that you'd be charged unless the circumstances were murky (e.g. the kidnapper was the other parent, that the firearm was the primary reason for them fleeing, that the "child" was voluntarily leaving with the other person, etc). The clear public interest here is the safety of the child and a parent would not be expected to act in a fully rational way when their own child's life was imperilled.

  • Isn't there also the question how they got hold of a firearm much more interesting in the UK, given that it is apparently nigh impossible to get a carry license? That is, unless someone was so mad to try to abduct the kid of someone out hunting with their kid.
    – Trish
    May 18, 2022 at 16:11
  • @Trish - Lots of farmers have guns.
    – Richard
    May 18, 2022 at 17:24
  • @Trish - You're not wrong though. If the gun was owned illegally, that would add additional aggravating factors. Probably that would result in unrelated charges for possession.
    – Richard
    May 18, 2022 at 17:25
  • That might be worth a mention,
    – Trish
    May 18, 2022 at 17:40
  • 1
    @Trish - OP didn't state that the gun is held illegally. It also wouldn't make much of a difference on the self-defence determination
    – Richard
    May 18, 2022 at 18:10

It’s better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6.

To answer the title of your question: Legally whether it was a crime or not would depend upon a host of factors not mentioned, including but not limited to, the jurisdiction, where the child was, where you were, exactly what the kidnapper was doing at the time you fired, what the kidnapper had done previously, your relationship, if any, with the kidnapper, you child’s relationship, if any, with the kidnapper. Dep being upon the charge, for gen your thoughts at the time could determine whether you had legally committed a crime. So, no easy answer.

Outside of the courtroom, do your best to protect your kid and damn the consequences. Worst case scenario could make you wish you had shot your kid if that was the only way to prevent what followed. And unless the kidnapper is known to you, you have no basis for deciding which end of the scale a successful kidnapping attempt will fall on.

As to the question in the body, would you be charged: there is a vast difference between

  1. Committed a crime
  2. Arrested for committing a crime
  3. Charged with committing a crime
  4. Prosecuted for a crime
  5. Convicted of a crime

The police may arrest you without sufficient evidence to charge you, the prosecutor may charge you while believing there is insufficient evidence to prosecute you or may believe that there’s sufficient evidence to prosecute but that other factors make a conviction unlikely or not worth pursuing.

You can be arrested, charged, prosecuted and convicted of a crime that never happened.

Prosecution is at the discretion of the DA’s office, which is either an elected position or an appointment by an elected official. And some prosecutors will be more concerned with politics than guilt or innocence, let alone justice. IMO whether you would be either initially charged or eventually prosecuted or not, would have little to do with technical guilt or innocence or the evidence for either, but how sympathetic they think you would be to the general public. They might charge you just to get a good gauge for public opinion.

  • Since this has been voted to delete, anyone want to explain what is wrong with it?
    – jmoreno
    Nov 12, 2018 at 10:28
  • 4
    While I don't agree this merits deletion, it is barely an "answer" as we define those on this site. What you have written is more commentary and trite non-legal advice.
    – feetwet
    Nov 12, 2018 at 15:20
  • 2
    You would have been better just deleting the answer entirely as it does not help at all, and writing the new text as a separate answer that could be voted on its own merits.
    – user4657
    Nov 13, 2018 at 2:35

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