Suppose I steal a car, and there's a baby in the back seat. Did I just kidnap the baby?

  • 107
    Please tell me you're not typing this from the front seat of a stolen car with twenty police cars behind you.
    – Richard
    Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 8:30
  • 93
    ("Asking for a friend.") Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 10:10
  • 32
    @Richard I think this was actually inspired by a recent article about a car thief who stole a car from a parking lot, then drove back to dump the 4 year old who was in the backseat and scold the mother for leaving the kid in the car (6abc.com/…)
    – Nzall
    Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 12:43
  • 41
    If you bring the child back and berate the parent for irresponsibility then I think it would be hard to convict them of kidnapping. Bonus points if you let the parent know that this level of irresponsibility will lead the child to a life of crime and car stealing.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 13:29
  • 31
    If the baby is asleep, it's a kid napping. Commented Jan 21, 2021 at 19:29

5 Answers 5


In , it appears that the kidnapping statutes do not apply if the act is not "knowing" or if the perpetrator lacks intent.

§ 18-3-301

  1. Any person who does any of the following acts with the intent thereby to force the victim or any other person to make any concession or give up anything of value in order to secure a release of a person under the offender's actual or apparent control commits first degree kidnapping:

    (a) Forcibly seizes and carries any person from one place to another;  or

    (b) Entices or persuades any person to go from one place to another;  or

    (c) Imprisons or forcibly secretes any person.

§ 18-3-302

  1. Any person who knowingly seizes and carries any person from one place to another, without his consent and without lawful justification, commits second degree kidnapping.

2.  Any person who takes, entices, or decoys away any child not his own under the age of eighteen years with intent to keep or conceal the child from his parent or guardian or with intent to sell, trade, or barter such child for consideration commits second degree kidnapping.

§ 18-3-303

  1.  Any person who knowingly confines or detains another without the other's consent and without proper legal authority commits false imprisonment.

As @ohwilleke pointed out in this answer, this means that as soon as the hypothetical car thief becomes aware that the child is in the car and doesn't then act to return the child to their parents, it becomes second-degree kidnapping. (It's also possible that CO case law has interpreted the statutes differently than I'm interpreting them here, but the plain language seems to require the actual intent to take and/or confine a person illicitly.)

  • I suppose it's possible that someone could be prosecuted under §18-3-304: "[A]ny person, including a natural or foster parent, who, knowing that he or she has no privilege to do so or heedless in that regard, takes or entices any child under the age of eighteen years from the custody or care of the child's parents, guardian, or other lawful custodian ... commits a class 5 felony." That section is about custody orders on its face, but I suppose a prosecutor could get creative. Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 21:39
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    I assume the "knowingly" in 18-3-302.1 protects bus drivers, pilots etc. transporting sleeping or misguided passengers or even people in custody or care who are mistakenly but with good intentions driven to the wrong place. Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 10:13
  • 8
    Should point out that said car thief is not "hypothetical". This actually just happened, which is likely what inspired this question. (And according to the report I saw, it's not the first time, can't find that link anymore though...) I think he knew he'd be in a lot more trouble for kidnapping than for auto theft. Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 14:24
  • @Michael Seifert "Possible" is hardly the word. Regardless of knowledge or intent, if someone does this, he will not only be prosecuted for auto theft but for kidnapping. District attorneys are elected, and this is a fine opportunity for the DA to convince the electorate that he is a tough guy. What happens to children always interests people. The legal details hardly matter, nor does an possible :-) eventual dismissal of the charge.
    – Wastrel
    Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 18:48
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    @Criggie That's good reasoning by analogy but I think there are two key differences. (1) it's much more reasonable to think that a captain or pilot wouldn't be aware of a stowaway than to think that the driver of a car wouldn't be aware of a baby in that car. Because 'knowledge' can be constructive, this difference is relevant. (2) being a pilot or boat captain isn't in and of itself bad, or malum in se, whereas driving a stolen car is. You make a good argument that reasonable minds could agree with, though.
    – user36183
    Commented Jan 21, 2021 at 15:26

In some jurisdictions, it would not be kidnapping until the offender knows that the baby was in the car. It would depend on the exact language of the criminal kidnapping statute in that jurisdiction as interpreted by case law.

For example, if the car thief stole the car and then abandoned the car, without ever knowing that the baby was in it, in some jurisdictions, this would not be kidnapping, because the offender would lack the knowledge that the crime was committed.

But, if after stealing the car, the offender then learns that the baby is there, and doesn't immediately take action to return the baby to its parents, even if this as a practical matter means turning himself in for the car theft offense, even those jurisdictions that require knowledge that a person has been kidnapped would make the person guilty of kidnapping.

Subtle differences in statutory language like this often don't necessarily have a lot of rhyme or reason to them in the sense of being considered policy decisions, and depend to a great extent on the statutory drafting style of the original legislators that wrote the criminal statute in question.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – feetwet
    Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 14:57

Yes, in

The New South Wales Crimes Act 1900 says:


(1) Basic offence A person who takes or detains a person, without the person's consent--

(1) ...

(a1) with the intention of committing a serious indictable offence, or

(b) ...

is liable to imprisonment for 14 years.

Stealing a car is a “serious indictable offence” so this is kidnapping.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dale M
    Commented Jan 21, 2021 at 1:30

There are two kindred offences In ; kidnap and child abduction.

Kidnap is contrary to common law and defined by the House of Lords as:

  • the taking or carrying away of one person by another;
  • by force or by fraud;
  • without the consent of the person so taken; and
  • without lawful excuse

Although kidnap is a viable and legitimate charge in the OP's scenario, the statutory offence at s.2 of the Child Abduction Act 1984 is more appropriate in these particular circumstances:

s.2(1) ... a person ... commits an offence if, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, he takes or detains a child under the age of sixteen—

(a) so as to remove him from the lawful control of any person having lawful control of the child; or

(b) so as to keep him out of the lawful control of any person entitled to lawful control of the child.

(Non-relevant detail redacted for ease of reading)

Here is a real-life example of a successful conviction under this legislation:

Two men who stole a mother’s Range Rover that had her three young children inside have been ... found guilty of child abduction (plus a host of other offences)

  • 2
    So it is kidnapping in the UK even without knowledge. And child abduction with knowledge even without intent to keep the child abducted.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 11:32
  • 2
    @gnasher729 I'm going to bet that it's harder to not know that there are three young children than it is to not know that there's one baby.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Jan 22, 2021 at 0:45

Yes. This is pretty cut and dry as it has triggered many an amber alert and has been charged as kidnapping when the suspect is arrested.

  • 8
    OP didn't list a jurisdiction. I'm assuming the US but make it clear to where you're referring. Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 20:44
  • U.S. Jurisdiction.
    – hszmv
    Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 12:12
  • 1
    @Studoku and even in the US it'd likely be dependent on which state or even which county it happened. And get even more complicated when crossing state lines as federal statutes would also come into play.
    – jwenting
    Commented Jan 22, 2021 at 11:34

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