A recent decision in Georgia helps clarify what is required to sustain a kidnapping conviction.
In Garza v. State, the Supreme Court of Georgia reversed the kidnapping convictions of Joey Garza, since the movements of his two victims were not adequate to constitute kidnapping under Georgia law.
According to the facts of the case, Garza entered the home of a woman and her three children after stating that he had left his wallet in the woman’s van. Garza locked the door, pulled out a handgun which he put against the woman’s head, and threatened to shoot her. He then struck the woman’s head with the gun which caused her to fall. While on the ground, Garza bound her wrists and ankles and placed her in a chair. After some time, Garza fell asleep and the woman and her two year old son managed to escape and alert police. The police entered the home and managed to rescue the woman’s infant. However, her nine year old son remained inside. When the police entered the home, Garza held the boy’s shirt and moved him to a different bedroom. Eventually, police negotiated the release of the boy for a six pack of beer. Garza was convicted of two counts of kidnapping, four counts of false imprisonment, and one count of aggravated assault.
Garza’s attorneys argued that the movement of the woman falling and being placed in a chair along with the boy being moved to a different room could not constitute kidnapping. Georgia law had previously recognized even a slight movement of the victim as being enough to convict someone of kidnapping. The Court was concerned with this standard, since a relatively minor crime like false imprisonment could turn into a major crime such as kidnapping with the smallest movement of the victim.
The Court overruled the old standard, and it instituted a new test which other states have adopted known as the Berry test. Part of the test examines the duration of the movement and whether the movement occurred during and inherent to a separate offense. Using this new standard, the Court partially reasoned that the woman falling and then being placed in a chair were movements of minimal duration, and the Court also determined that these movements were incidental to the charge of false imprisonment. The Court reached the same conclusion about the boy’s movement to a different bedroom within the house. Thus, these movements did not constitute kidnapping under the new standard.
Our firm has won criminal trials for people charged with kidnapping where the facts do not support a true kidnapping allegation. We hope judges and prosecutors will consider this decision before allowing a questionable kidnapping case to go to trial. There are many other crimes that may fit a certain set of facts. Trying to stretch the case into a kidnapping charge is not usually the best way to win a conviction, or promote justice.