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What Are Unlawful Restraint & Kidnapping Charges in Texas?

People have the right to move about freely, so it’s not a surprise that Texas criminalizes any restraint of a person against their will. The two most important laws that criminalize this restraint are for unlawful restraint and kidnapping. A conviction under either could send you to jail or prison, as well as cost you thousands in fines. Contact a Houston criminal defense attorney at Tad Nelson & Associates to discuss your charges.

Unlawful Restraint

Texas Penal Code Section 20.02 makes it a crime to restrain a person intentionally or knowingly. The statute defines “restrain” as a substantial interference with a person’s liberty by restricting their movement without consent. So grabbing someone very briefly probably does not qualify as a crime, but holding them in your car for an hour would.

Unlawful restraint is usually a Class A misdemeanor crime, which in Texas is punishable by a maximum of 12 months in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Alternatively, it is a state jail felony if you restrained someone under age 17, or a third-degree felony if created a substantial risk of serious injury.

You do have some defenses. The law creates an affirmative defense if you are taking lawful control of a relative who is younger than 14. So if you grab your child who is fighting in order to restrain them, you have not committed a crime. Another defense might be that you restrained someone unintentionally. For example, accidentally striking a pedestrian with your car would immobilize them but is not intentional or knowing conduct.


Under Penal Code Section 20.03, kidnapping is a more serious offense than unlawful restraint. It consists of abducting someone intentionally or knowingly by threatening deadly force or by hiding them in a secret location. So pointing a gun at someone and having them drive you to the airport would be kidnapping. Taking someone to an isolated location against their will is also kidnapping.

Kidnapping is a third-degree felony, which can send you to prison for 2-10 years and result in a $10,000 fine. As with unlawful restraint, there is an affirmative defense for people abducting a relative if there was no intent to use or threaten deadly force.

Kidnapping can also be aggravated in certain situations and result in enhanced charges:

  • Holding a victim for reward or ransom
  • Using a victim as a hostage
  • Sexually abusing or inflicting injury to the victim
  • Terrorizing the victim or another person
  • Using a victim to help you commit a felony or flee from an attempted felony
  • Interfering with government or political functions

For example, if you take a hostage as part of a bank robbery, then you have committed an aggravated felony. The same is true if you end up sexually assaulting or otherwise physically harming your abductee.

Aggravated felony is usually a first-degree felony in Texas, which can result in 5-99 years in prison.

Contact Our Criminal Defense Attorney in Houston

Kidnapping and unlawful restraint charges are often coupled with other offenses, like sexual assault or battery. You should hire the best criminal defense attorney you can find. Contact Tad Nelson & Associates today to review your odds of bringing a successful defense.