Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Circuit Upholds Kidnapping Conviction: Evidence Was Sufficient to Prove That Defendant “Held” Victim Against His Will

United States v. Corbett, No. 11-3678-cr (2d Cir. Apr. 29, 2014) (Katzmann, Winter, and Calabresi), available here

What evidence is sufficient under the Lindbergh Law, 18 U.S.C. § 1201(a), to convict a defendant of “holding” a victim against the victim’s will? The circuits disagree. The Fourth and Eleventh Circuits, for example, say that a defendant who first “takes” control of his victim by “decoy” or trick must intend to back up his pretense with physical or psychological force in order to “hold” the unwilling victim under the statute. The Eighth Circuit, in contrast, does not require proof an intent to use force; kidnapping a victim by means of continued trickery is enough.
Here, the Second Circuit found it unnecessary to join either side of the split because, the Court held, the evidence allowed the jury to find that the defendant, Corbett, after tricking his victim, McPherson, into a minivan, intended to continue holding the victim against his will — as the defendant did — before robbing and killing him, and leaving his body along the road. The evidence was therefore sufficient to support the defendant’s kidnapping conviction. 
Here’s the key paragraph of the Court’s opinion:
“Focusing, as we do, on the defendant’s intent, we need not, and hence, do not, decide today whether
§ 1201 may be satisfied when a victim is ‘held’ only by the victim’s continuing belief in his kidnapper’s dupe. In this case, the Government produced sufficient evidence that Corbett intended to lure McPherson into his van for the purpose of robbing him; and that Corbett intended to ‘hold’ McPherson in the van against McPherson’s will.”
This proof, the Court held, was sufficient to satisfy the federal kidnapping statute. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction (and his life sentence).
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