You engage in California child abduction when you lack legal custody of a child and maliciously keep, entice, or take them away from their birth parent or lawful guardian. These cases are widespread in Los Angeles, although not all suspects are guilty. You can be accused of the offense even when you are the birth parent of the alleged child by your spouse, primarily during divorce or a fight for legal custody.

The Restraining Order Law Firm understands the complexity of these cases and is willing to support you in fighting the abduction charges or any domestic violence case. We will not rule out false accusations, as they are prevalent in these cases regardless of the charges' appearance. Highlighted below is what you should expect during the charges.

Child Abduction Definition

Child abduction under PEN 278 is maliciously taking, enticing, withholding, or concealing a child from their biological parents or legal custodian when you lack legal custody. Most individuals who breach these statutes are relatives or birth parents of the juvenile. The statute protects birth parents or lawful custodians from anxiety and suffering when someone takes their children away without permission. Therefore, the crime is not committed against the abducted juvenile but rather against the birth parent or party with lawful custody.

You must understand that birth parents have physical custody. A parent can therefore hide or keep a juvenile for a prolonged time to safeguard them, but only as per the provisions of the law. When you conceal the child, even with custody, you should file a Good Cause with the local prosecutor’s office. Neglecting to do this within ten days of taking the child will result in PEN 278 violation charges. Besides, you can file for custody within thirty days to prevent criminal charges.

Having a legal child over a juvenile means you are responsible for the minor’s physical care and control.

Child abduction is not the same as kidnapping because it is committed against the birth parent or legal guardian while kidnapping under PEN 207 is moving an individual from one point to another without their consent or using threats or force. Even if you move the defendant the shortest distance, you will be guilty of kidnapping if the following is true:

  • Moving the victim increased their risk of harm or death.
  • The distance was sufficient to aid you, the defendant, in avoiding the detection.

Bail Qualification Following a Child Abduction Arrest

If you are apprehended for child abduction, you should exit jail as soon as possible to begin preparations for the charges. The most efficient way to exit custody pending trial is through bail. While you have a right to bail, the arresting cop can hold you until the arraignment proceeding, where the court hearing the case does the following:

  • Reads out the formal charges against you.
  • Allows you to enter a guilty plea.
  • Rules on your bail.
  • Schedules your pretrial hearing.

The law presumes you are innocent until proven otherwise. Therefore, if the judge does not deem you a flight risk or threat to the public, you will be granted a pre-trial release. The court will also consider your community links, conduct in court, criminal record, and record of attending court after pretrial release.

Apart from bail release, the judge can discharge you from custody through your recognizance, where you do not deposit any money to exit jail. The law only requires you to promise in writing that you will appear in court for the scheduled hearing.

Once you exit the jail, you should prioritize hiring a defense attorney to help you fight the charges and avoid a conviction. At the Restraining Order Law Firm, we are willing to investigate the case’s facts and craft viable defenses to keep you from returning to jail, this time for a prolonged period after a conviction.

Elements of PEN 278 Violations

The state brings abduction charges against you. However, before they secure a sentence, the prosecutor must demonstrate the following elements beyond reasonable certainty:

You Maliciously Took, Concealed, or Kept a Juvenile from their Legal Custodian

The prosecutor focuses on demonstrating that you took a minor or juvenile maliciously, implying you knew your conduct was illegal. First, they must prove that you held the child. The prosecutor does this by demonstrating that you hindered or interfered with the juvenile from going back home to their birth parents or legal custodians. The state has an easy time proving PEN 278 violation charges because they are not required to demonstrate that you held or kept the juvenile. The fact relevant to the case is that you planned or intended to detain or hold the child with malice to annoy, defraud, or disturb the legal guardian.

Again, the DA does not need to show you used coercion to entice the juvenile. They only need to show you spawned desires or expectations, luring the minor.

The Juvenile was Below 18 

Child abduction charges can only be brought in court if the person you abducted is younger than 18.

You Lacked Legal Care over the Juvenile

Legal or lawful custody means you have consent to materially care for and have authority over the minor. The individuals who enjoy legal custody are the biological parents of the juvenile whose custodial rights are not revoked or someone else who acquired custodial rights through a court directive. A legal guardian can be a public entity, not necessarily a person. If the prosecutor demonstrates that you are not a designated lawful custodian of the child, you are guilty of a PEN 278 violation.

You Planned to Withhold or Detain the Juvenile from their Legal Custodian

When detaining or concealing the juvenile from their legal custodian, your state of mind determines whether you are guilty or innocent. If you planned or intended to detain the child and your actions were not mistaken, you will be guilty of child abduction.

Sentencing Hearing

When the prosecutor successfully proves all the elements of the charges and is more convincing than your defense attorney, you will be guilty of a PEN 278 violation. Once found guilty, the judge will set a new date for the sentencing hearing.

The judge’s decision on the kind of penalties to impose for the offense hinges on several factors, including:

  • Your criminal history.
  • The risk of hurt or death when the juvenile was in your custody.
  • The prosecutor’s recommendations about your sentence.
  • Your legal representative’s mitigating factors.

The judge presiding over your case sets a sentencing proceeding where the opposing sides recommend the appropriate sentence. The hearing happens after you have been found guilty of the charges against you. It allows your defense attorney to present mitigating or vindicating factors to lower the penalties. Equally, the prosecutor gives you an equal chance to submit aggravating factors for the penalties proposed by the law to be increased.

In a sentencing proceeding, you plead guilty or no contest to the charges. Alternatively, the case can proceed to prosecution if the court finds you guilty of abducting a minor. The judge then takes time to deliberate on the sentence. The judge will need approximately six to one hundred and twenty hours to impose penalties for a misdemeanor sentence, although the period can be extended.

When convicted of a felony, you must wait twenty days to receive your sentence. The duration can be prolonged up to thirty days if unique circumstances exist. While waiting for the court’s verdict, the judge can instruct you to stay in custody or grant a bail release.

During the sentencing, you can appear for the hearing, have legal counsel, submit vindicating factors, recommend alternative penalties, and be summoned by the judge. Nevertheless, you cannot examine witnesses at this stage. Some of the favorable aspects of the case that can help reduce your sentence are:

  • You were planning to return the child safely to the legal custodian.
  • You had reunited the child with the legal custodian before the court issued your arrest warrant.

The prosecutor wants to use you as an example to warn and discourage people planning to abduct minors. So, they will recommend that the court impose the harshest penalties. They will cite the following aggravating circumstances for a sentence increase:

  • When you were apprehended, the lawful custodians of the child were absent.
  • You modified the juvenile’s looks or official name.
  • You exposed the minor to the risk of injury in detention.
  • You traveled with the minor out of the country.
  • The juvenile or legal guardian obtained injuries during abduction.

Child Abduction Legal Penalties

In sentencing, you should expect felony or misdemeanor punishment because a PEN 278 violation is chargeable as a wobbler. The complexity of the circumstances surrounding your arrest and criminal record will determine the preferred charge. If the preferred charge is a felony and you are found guilty, you will face these penalties:

  • Court fines of no more than $10,000.
  • Formal or felony probation.
  • Custody or visitation loss.
  • Mandatory completion of court-imposed therapy sessions.
  • Two, three, or four years of prison incarceration.

When the conviction is for a misdemeanor, the possible penalties are:

  • At most, $1,000 court fines.
  • County jail incarceration for at most twelve months.
  • Mandatory completion of counseling lessons.
  • Obey restrictive orders.
  • Misdemeanor probation.

The collateral repercussions of a guilty verdict are:

  • Having a criminal record.
  • Loss of gun ownership rights in the event of a felony conviction.
  • Immigration consequences in the event of an aggravated felony for aliens.
  • Victim restitution for costs incurred in reuniting with the family.

Fighting Child Abduction Charges

The Restraining Order Law Firm will defend you immediately after being apprehended or charged with child abduction in Los Angeles. We understand that the slightest misunderstanding can result in charges and sometimes wrongful convictions. Most charges, particularly those involving birth parents and relatives, stem from false accusations. Therefore, our attorneys are ready to investigate your case’s facts and poke holes in the prosecutor’s evidence for a favorable ruling or charge dismissal. The arguments we will mount in your case are:

  • You are the Lawful Custodian of the Juvenile

You face abduction charges when you, the defendant, deprive the legal guardian of the minor's custodial rights. A lawful guardian could be a government agency, natural parents, or another person with custody rights over the child. In these cases, the victim is typically the person with custodial or visitation rights. You cannot be accused of abduction if you are the minor's legal custodian. Also, if the alleged victim is not the legal guardian, you are not guilty because they cannot accuse you of abducting a child they have no custodial rights over.

Alternatively, you can claim that you work for a public entity that is the child's legal custodian, which automatically gives you custodial rights. Nevertheless, when the juvenile suffers physical or emotional harm during the alleged abduction, you can face charges and a possible conviction for neglecting to provide for the minor’s basic needs while in detention.

  • You Lacked Mischievous Intent During the Purported Abduction

One critical element that prosecutors must demonstrate in these charges is malice. They must show the court with meticulous and convincing evidence that you intended to defraud, disturb, or injure the victim, who is the child’s lawful custodian. It is difficult for the prosecutor to enter your mind and show your mental status or motivation during the alleged abduction. They rely on circumstantial evidence based on your conduct before and after the incident to demonstrate intent, which creates room for your defense attorney to poke holes in the evidence.

Your legal representative will argue that your malicious intent did not push you to commit the offense. The attorney can assert that you believed the child was in danger of harm and that you had to take them away from the lawful guardian for protection. If your actions were inspired by goodwill, you are not guilty of a PEN 278 violation.

Nevertheless, your actions will be deemed malicious when you entice or take away a juvenile to harm or annoy a parent. Again, even if you had good intentions when taking the child but later decided to keep them indefinitely, you are guilty, especially when you kept the juvenile until the time of the arrest. After protecting a child from harm by taking them away, the right decision is to report them to the authorities. Concealing or withholding the information amounts to child abduction.

  • The Prosecutor Has Insufficient Proof

Criminal courts have a high evidentiary standard beyond moral or reasonable certainty. The prosecutor demonstrates in all aspects of the case that you broke the law. If the prosecutor fails to meet this threshold, your attorney can put doubt in the jurors’ minds. Nevertheless, you must find evidence to convince the court that the prosecutor lacks enough evidence to convict you. The evidence you need to support your insufficient proof argument includes the following:

  1. Emails, Facebook, or text messages from the other birth parent or victim.
  2. Eyewitnesses' or relatives’ statements.
  3. A footage or audio recording of the alleged abduction.
  4. Court documents showing a family court’s judge’s orders.

If the evidence is compelling, the judge has no choice but to drop the charges.

  • You are Falsely Accused

Child abduction cases are prevalent during child custody or divorce disputes. One parent attempts to gain an advantage in the dispute by falsely accusing the other of child abduction. Others will make false abduction claims to seek revenge or out of jealousy. If you are convinced of your innocence, you can use false allegations as a defense.

Also, when you are innocent, you can claim that your apprehension was a matter of mistaken identity. Your attorney will assert that your physical description matches that of the person who abducted the child. Alternatively, you can claim that the abductor drove a car that resembles yours and that the matching vehicle was the only reason for apprehension.

An alleged victim can falsely accuse you of a PEN 278 breach for several reasons. It is your responsibility to find an attorney who will trust you and invest their time and money in the case to uncover the truth and prove that you did not commit the alleged crime.

  • The Alleged Victim was Aware of the Juvenile’s Whereabouts 

An ex-spouse or partner you share custody with can report you for abducting a child when you fail to take back the child at the agreed time after visitation. The purported victim could be worried that you fled with the minor to deprive them of custodial rights.

Whenever you have custody of a child during visitation, you should notify the other birth parent or legal guardian to prevent them from panicking. Therefore, if you notified the alleged victim of the circumstances causing your delay and returned the child as soon as you could, you can use this as a defense. You can explain to the court that your vehicle broke down but was immediately repaired, and you returned the juvenile to the legal parent.

Several defenses are available to fight child abduction charges. However, it is up to your attorney to craft the proper defenses depending on your case’s nature.

Find a Knowledgeable Domestic Violence Defense Attorney Near Me

Extending your visitation for a few days or punishing your spouse by taking away the child can put you in trouble with the law for child abduction. Unfortunately, you can face charges even if you are not guilty. For this reason, you should reach out to the Restraining Order Law Firm to defend against these accusations in Los Angeles. To schedule a meeting, call us today at 424-600-7691.