Saturday, October 4, 2008

Then as Farce

On the 13th anniversary of his famous acquittal, O.J. Simpson has been found guilty of all charges, including armed robbery and kidnapping, for barging into a hotel room with a group of men and trying to recovery some sports memorabilia that he claimed were his own property.

Now, the case obviously has all kinds of weird resonances, but I want to focus on one point: kidnapping? How the heck was this kidnapping? Armed robbery I understand. If you use guns to take property from people, that's armed robbery -- although there might be some technicalities if it really is your own property. I'm sure he'll fight that out in the court of appeals. But kidnapping? If you never move the victim, where is the kidnapping? If someone is where they wanted to be, and you held them there at gunpoint for a while, you've doubtless committed a crime, but to call it kidnapping seems like quite a stretch.

Let's take a look at the legal definition to see if it matches our intuitions. According to Black's Law Dictionary, the common law definition was "the crime of forcibly abducting a person from his or her own country and sending the person to another." That obviously required movement of the victim -- quite a bit of movement. The more modern definition, again according to Black's, is "The crime of seizing and taking away a person by force or fraud." So again, the concept of movement is there.

Black's doesn't really have any official standing and can be a little old-fashioned, so let's look around some more. An online legal dictionary, which obviously also has no official standing but which seems a little more modern, says that kidnapping is "The crime of unlawfully seizing and carrying away a person by force or Fraud, or seizing and detaining a person against his or her will with an intent to carry that person away at a later time." That seems to match what I would say -- there doesn't absolutely have to be movement of the victim, but it at least has to be part of the plan.

Of course, what actually matters is the law of the state of Nevada, where the crime occurred. The definition there is:

"A person who willfully seizes, confines, inveigles, entices, decoys, abducts, conceals, kidnaps or carries away a person by any means whatsoever with the intent to hold or detain, or who holds or detains, the person for ransom, or reward, or for the purpose of committing sexual assault, extortion or robbery upon or from the person, or for the purpose of killing the person or inflicting substantial bodily harm upon him, or to exact from relatives, friends, or any other person any money or valuable thing for the return or disposition of the kidnapped person, and a person who leads, takes, entices, or carries away or detains any minor with the intent to keep, imprison, or confine him from his parents, guardians, or any other person having lawful custody of the minor, or with the intent to hold the minor to unlawful service, or perpetrate upon the person of the minor any unlawful act is guilty of kidnapping in the first degree which is a category A felony."

Well, that's pretty different from what you would expect. Simpson and his cohorts did "hold an detain" the victims, "for the purpose of committing . . . robbery upon" them. So I guess, under Nevada law, this was a kidnapping.

But really, that seems ridiculous. Basically, this means that every robbery in Nevada is also a kidnapping. Because doesn't a robber always hold and detain the victim? It's pretty tough to commit a robbery without holding and detaining the victim. If the victim can just walk away, a robbery is not going to succeed. And if the robbery occurs indoors, the robber will always "confine" the victim, so that makes it doubly a kidnapping.

It's not the prosecutor's fault if his state has stupid laws, but prosecutors do have some duty to apply discretion in bringing charges. I would say O.J. got unfairly screwed on this one. Armed robbery, yes, and he should be sentenced accordingly. But calling it a kidnapping seems like overkill.


kudzuarms said...

You'll just have to discuss that with your law students.
When NV revised statute 200.003(4) in 2004, it was for good reasons.
Once convicted on robbery along with kidnapping under their revised statute, it puts more time on the thugs causing the problem for the state.
Fewer judges will be able to allow thugs to walk when a jury gives the guilty verdict.
Too bad OJ thought those "naked guns" would help.

Jon Siegel said...

Thanks for your comment, kuduarms, but I would say that if the Nevada legislature wants more prison time for robbers, it should just raise the penalty for robbery. I'm not against putting robbers in prison for as long as the state legislature thinks is appropriate. I'm just saying that calling every robber a kidnapper seems silly.

kudzuarms said...

Did you ever meet up with a guy named Kibitlewski or Spain?

Jon Siegel said...

No, who are they?

kudzuarms said...

Both visited your college - the 1st one is a law professor, the next is in IT security and also does lectures.

Wish you'd join the blog about legal questions - at least the OJ forum:

I believe there are a couple of lawyers or professors there - or at least "suggest" they might be.