Abductions and Amber Alerts
Chief District Attorney O'Brien explains why kidnapping is hard to define, prosecute
By Taylor ZamoraRadar Staff Reporter
If you live in Farmington, New Mexico, you have been getting a few Amber Alerts over the past couple of months. What’s going on? Is this happening a lot more than usual in the state? What about here in Farmington?
About 600,000 people go missing every year in the United States. New Mexico currently has about 143 people missing according to worldpopulationreview.com.
“Some are kidnappings. It’s pretty rare but we have about 1 or 2 kidnappings a month,” said Dustin O’Brien, Chief Deputy Attorney of 11th Judicial District Attorney's Office of New Mexico - Div. 1, in an interview on April 15 at his office.
You may often see Amber Alerts where an infant or toddler is taken which is upsetting. However, the Amber Alerts include “last seen with biological mother," which is considered custodial interference since the parent in question does not have custody of said child.
“Most of the cases it’s a domestic violence situation,” O’Brien said. “It’s even pretty rare we have kidnapping where it’s a non-custodial parent taking a kid.”
Here in Farmington, stranger kidnapping by someone is extremely rare, he continued.
“It used to be kidnapping is holding someone for service against their will, for ransom or as a hostage,” O’Brien said. “... to commit sexual offense or physical harm injury on a person.”
In other words, when kidnappings do take place there are certain facts that classify it as a kidnapping. O’Brien recalled a case where an individual was being attacked in her room. Her attackers did not have enough room to completely harm her so they dragged her downstairs into another room which was then considered and act of kidnapping. The law describes kidnapping as a form of asportation which involves the movement or carrying away of property or person.
“The court said there has to be asportation in order to rule it as a kidnapping case,” O'Brien said.
However, it’s different when a victim willing gets into a car and then wants out but is denied. Which is considered false imprisonment.
False imprisonment is similar to kidnapping but easier to prove and finding local, state, and even national stats is hard to do.
“(Kidnapping) used to be a lot easier to prove.” O’Brien explained.
Distance is very important in considering a kidnapping case, said O’Brien, but there are different charges a kidnap case can fall under. There is a first degree which is usually a stranger keeping an individual imprisoned accomplishing his or her motive for taking the individual which could be sexual offense, ransom, or physical harm. If the victim’s outcome is death, it does not effect the kidnapping charge but adds a first-degree or second-degree murder charge to the suspects record.
Second-degree kidnapping involves an individual who usually knows the victim but fails the attempt.
The charges of these crimes vary. Eighteen years was the longest Dustin O’Brien has seen someone be sentenced.
If the victim dies, then the suspect would be charged with the 18 years for the kidnapping charge then would also be sentenced a certain amount of time for the murder of the victim and would result in more time in prison for the suspect.
The shortest sentencing O’Brien has seen was “no time at all,” he said.
Most kidnappings are related to domestic violence cases. The majority of the victims will not comply with court dates to protect the defendant. The defendant may still be charged with battery which would result in a month or so of probation.
As mentioned, statistics for kidnapping occurrences are limited. A 2008 Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) for Congress states that “ the UCR does not collect known offense data on crimes commonly covered by the media, such as kidnapping, bribery, or child pornography.” (Source: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL34309.pdf)
Additionaly, the FBI webpage does not report kidnapping statistics but it does show individuals who are missing or kidnapped each year.
So what's the take home message?
“Most of these charges are involved with the suspect being intoxicated," O’Brien concluded.