California Child Abduction Lawyers

Child Abduction – Overview (Penal Code Sections 277-280)

Child Abduction - PC 277-280
Laws on the abduction of children explained according to PC 277-280.

Under California Penal Code Sections 277-2801, child abduction is defined as the malicious taking, enticing away, keeping, withholding or concealing of any child with the intent to detain or conceal that child from their legal custodian, when the persons involved in this act do not have legal right or custody of the child. Child abduction is most commonly committed by parents, step-parents and other family members of the child who do not hold rights of legal custody to the child.

Can a Family Member or Parent Abduct their Own Child?

Child abduction by a relative occurs when someone, typically a parent, family member, or acquaintance of a child, takes, entices away, keeps, withholds or conceals the child, typically in violation of a custody or visitation order. There are many reasons why a parent would want to abduct their own child. These reasons include but are not limited to the following:

  • The abducting parent confuses their own frustration or disgust with the relationship as meaning that the other parent is bad for the child;
  • The abducting parent fears losing custody or visitation rights;
  • The abducting parent is “getting back at” the other parent by taking away something the other parent wants (namely, the child);
  • The abducting parent is removing the child from real physical injury or emotional harm, or a perceived threat of physical injury and/or emotional harm by the other parent;
  • The abducting parent fears the values, influence and/or behavior to which the other parent may expose the child;
  • The abducting parent may have never intended to involve the other parent in raising the child and is attempting to eliminate them by leaving;
  • The abducting parent may be trying to force a reconciliation or contact with the other parent; and
  • The abducting parent wants to be more important in the child’s life and/or wants the child to become more dependent on him or her

The District Attorney’s Office of Child Abduction Unit2 becomes involved when a parent or other family member without legal custody abducts a child. Not only does child abduction involve Family Court, Juvenile Court and/or Probate Court, but it may also involve a felony violation of California law.

Are There Any Exceptions to Child Abduction?

Child custody
Child abduction in violation of child custody

A child may be taken or detained in violation of a custody or visitation order only if there is a good faith and “reasonable” belief that the child or children, if left with another person, parent, or legal guardian will suffer immediate bodily injury or emotional harm.

However, if you take your child or children away for their protection under this exception, you must immediately contact your local District Attorney’s Child Abduction Unit and follow certain reporting instructions. It is vital that you follow these instructions exactly or the exception will not apply to you and you could face criminal charges of child abduction.

Child Abduction versus Kidnapping

Child abduction is often confused with kidnapping. Kidnapping is a much more serious offense. As defined under Penal Code Sections 207-209.53, kidnapping involves moving a person a “substantial distance” without their consent, by use of force or threat.

Unlike child abduction, kidnapping is an offense made against a person of any age; however, penalties for kidnapping charges increase if the victim is under the age of 14 years old. It is possible that you could be facing kidnapping charges rather than child abduction charges if you take your child or children a substantial distance away from their legal custodian, depending on the circumstances of the case.

Prosecution for Abducting a Child or Children

In order to convict you of child abduction, the District Attorney must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that any of the following apply:

  • You had no lawful right to custody of the child or children;
  • Your intent was malicious or harmful to the child or legal custodian when you abducted the child; that is to say, you were attempting to maliciously deprive the persons involved of lawful custody or visitation rights;
  • You exposed the child or children to bodily injury or emotional harm during the abduction;
  • Whether you kept or withheld the child or children maliciously, regardless of whether or not the child or children resisted or objected;

Abduction is an objective standard. This means, the prosecution must prove that you acted maliciously, with the intent to take, entice away, keep, withhold, or conceal the child or children from the other parent or agent of the parent. If every element of the crime can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, you can be found guilty of child abduction.

Defenses to Child Abduction Charges

Child abduction defenses
Defenses to child abduction

There are several defenses an experienced criminal defense attorney can raise to a charge of child abduction. These include, but are not limited to the following:

  • You had lawful custody of the child or children;
  • You had good faith and reasonable belief that the child or children were in imminent danger of immediate physical injury or emotional harm;
  • You took the child or children away, but the other parent had lost his or her parental rights due to neglect, abuse, or abandonment;
  • You were falsely accused or wrongfully arrested based on mistaken identity or mistake of fact; or
  • There is insufficient evidence to convict you of the crime.

Our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich will discuss these defenses in greater detail later on in this section.

Sentencing and Punishment for a Child Abduction Conviction

The punishment for committing the crime of abducting a child can range from a misdemeanor offense, carrying up to 12 months in county jail and/or a fine of $1000, to a felony violation, punishable by two, three, or four years in state prison and/or a $10,000 fine (Penal Code Section 278).4

Additional consequences may include victim restitution or restitution to the agency which prosecutes you. You could also face a civil suit for false imprisonment.

Contact Wallin & Klarich Today

partners 2015 - child abduction
Contact the attorneys at Wallin & Klarich today if you have been charged with child abduction

If you or a loved one has been accused of unlawfully abducting your child, you need to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney today. At Wallin & Klarich, our attorneys have over 40 years of experience successfully representing our clients charged with child abduction offenses.

With offices in Los Angeles, Torrance, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, West Covina and Victorville, the knowledgeable criminal defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have been able to help our clients to successfully defend against serious criminal charges such as child abduction. We may be able to challenge all the evidence against you and help you to win your case. Or, we may be able to negotiate for alternative sentencing, allowing you to avoid jail time while serving a court-ordered sentence.

Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL (877-466-5245) for a free telephone consultation.

We will get through this together.


All of the information provided on this page was retrieved from the following sources:

1. [California Penal Code Sections 277-280: http://leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=pen&group=00001-01000&file=277-280]
2. [Los Angeles District Attorneys Office Child Abduction Unit: http://da.co.la.ca.us/cau/]
3. [California Penal Code Sections 207-210: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=pen&group=00001-01000&file=207-210]
4. [California Penal Code Section 278: http://law.onecle.com/california/penal/278.html]

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