Proposed kidnapping amendments seek to bridge gap in custody concerns, protect Utah kids

Stock image of the Utah State Capitol Building | Image by Michael Hart on Unsplash, St. George News
Stock image of the Utah State Capitol Building | Image by Michael Hart on Unsplash, St. George News

ST. GEORGE —What exactly is parental kidnapping in the eyes of the law? With a goal to protect children, a proposed bill hopes to clarify the terms of custodial interference and kidnapping.

Will Carlson, Deputy District Attorney and Chief Policy Adviser with the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office is shown, location and date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Will Carlson, St. George News
Will Carlson, deputy district attorney and chief policy adviser with the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office is shown, location and date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Will Carlson, St. George News

The parental kidnapping amendments bill, officially designated as HB 143 in the 2023 Utah Legislature, makes it a crime for a parent without visitation rights or custody to interfere with the custody of a child. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Jon Hawkins, who began his legislative service in January 2019.

Regarding the details of this bill, Will Carlson, deputy district attorney and chief policy adviser with the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office told St. George News that under current law, parents who have a custody or visitation order that is violated can be charged with custodial interference.

Since a parent can give permission to take a child, if that parent does not have custody or visitation rights, they currently cannot be charged with custodial interference because they gave themselves permission to take the child.

“Most Amber Alerts that people get are parents who’ve had their parental rights terminated that take the kids, so this bill is really important to protect those children,” Carlson said.

Carlson said kidnapping is its own statute that has a defense if the parent gives permission, but there is currently no distinction to say it must be a parent with custody or visitation rights.

The bill states that a parent commits parental kidnapping if they are not entitled to custody or visitation, takes, entices, conceals, detains or holds the child from an individual entitled to custody, or intends to interfere with custody. 

“A parent whose custody is terminated still can’t commit kidnapping, because they’re the kid’s parent, they just don’t have legal rights to the kid,” Carlson added. “The goal of the bill is to create something between kidnapping and custodial interference for those situations.”

If passed, an offense would be a second-degree felony if during the course of parental kidnapping, the parent removes the child from the state.

The bill also adds language stating it is an affirmative defense to the crime of parental kidnapping if the parent is under a reasonable belief that the action is necessary to protect the child from imminent serious bodily injury, death or to protect from child abuse, including sexual abuse.

Before removing the child, the parent must report to law enforcement the intention to engage in the action and the basis for the parent’s belief. 

As of Jan. 17, the bill has been introduced to the House and has yet to be heard in committee.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!