What Makes a Kidnapping “Aggravated” Kidnapping?

June 3rd, 2019 by Tad Nelson in Criminal Defense

In Texas criminal law, there is often a distinction between a regular offense and an “aggravated” offense. For example, kidnapping is normally a third-degree felony under the Texas Penal Code. But under certain circumstances, a defendant may be charged with “aggravated kidnapping,” which is a first-degree felony.

Section 20.04 of the Penal Code lists six aggravating factors, any one of which can support the first-degree charge. These include abducting another person with the intent to:

  1. hold them for “ransom or reward”;
  2. use them as a “shield of hostage”;
  3. commit another felony or attempt to escape after committing another felony;
  4. inflict bodily harm or commit sexual abuse against the hostage;
  5. “terrorize” the hostage or a third person; or
  6. interfere with the “performance of any governmental or political function.”

Additionally, a person can be charged with aggravated kidnapping anytime they abduct someone else while using or exhibiting a “deadly weapon.”

Appeals Court Upholds 50-Year Sentence of Defendant Convicted of Grabbing Woman on Houston Street

A recent decision from the Texas First District Court of Appeals here in Houston, Bertram v. State, illustrates how the law of aggravated kidnapping applies in practical terms. In this case, prosecutors alleged the defendant followed a woman for several blocks as she walked from her apartment building to her workplace. The woman said she tripped and fell on the street, at which point the defendant grabbed her arm “with both his hands and squeezed.” She testified the defendant wanted to “pull me towards a place” and that he was “trying to put [a] handkerchief in her mouth.”

An eyewitness testified he saw the defendant “trying to grab” the woman. The witness said the woman tried to “pull away” from the defendant, but that he “reached out to grab [her] again.” The witness and his girlfriend followed the pair to the parking lot of a nearby tire shop. The witness’ girlfriend then took the woman away from the scene, and the witness managed to flag down a passing Houston Police Department officer. After the officer spoke to the woman and observed “red marks” on her arm, he arrested the defendant on charges of aggravated kidnapping.

A jury found the defendant guilty. Due in part to the defendant’s prior criminal record, he received a 50-year prison sentence. On appeal, the defendant maintained there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction. The First District disagreed and affirmed the conviction and sentence. Based on the testimony of the accuser and the eyewitness, the appeals court said it was reasonable for the jury to infer the defendant “was pulling [the woman] backward and attempting to silence her with the handkerchief because he intended to hold or secrete her in a place where she was unlikely to be found,” which met the legal test for aggravated kidnapping, even if it was not clear what the defendant’s precise “nefarious purpose” was at the time.

Speak with a Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

Aggravated felony charges are not something that will go away on their own. If you are charged with aggravated kidnapping or a similar offense, you need to work with an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney who understands how to handle these types of cases. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you need immediate assistance.

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