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NY Court of Appeals Rules Parents can be Kidnappers
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On Thursday, a divided New York Court of Appeals held that in certain cases it is possible to convict custodial parents of kidnapping their children. Judge Robert Smith observed that the court was following precedents established in Arizona, Florida and Iowa that “kidnapping by a custodial parent of his own child is not a legal impossibility … though only in cases, like this one, where a defendant’s conduct is so obviously and unjustifiably dangerous or harmful to the child as to be inconsistent with the idea of lawful custody.” The ruling of the Court of Appeals affirmed the previous ruling given in 2011 by the Appellate Division, Third Department in the instant matter.

The court was divided with a 4-3 majority upholding the 2009 conviction of Leo Leonard who was sentenced to 25 years. The charges against Leonard include kidnapping, criminal possession of a weapon, burglary and endangering the welfare of a child. Leonard was arrested while police went to his former girlfriend’s house in response to a help call over a domestic dispute and found Leonard holding his 6-week-old daughter at knifepoint.

The dissenting judges observed that there was not enough evidence to prove that Leonard was aware that he was committing the crime of unlawfully restraining his daughter, and there was also no proof that the infant had been moved or confined “without consent.” The dissenting judges also criticized the prosecutors for mixing up child endangerment with kidnapping.


Writing in dissent, Judge Theodore Jones observed, “Here, the majority has engaged in a tortured analysis of the relevant kidnapping statutes and determined that this defendant’s commission of acts constituting child endangerment satisfied the ‘abduct’ element of second-degree kidnapping … in my view, this sort of bootstrapping is unacceptable.”

The attorneys of either party were unavailable for comment.

While Leonard’s behavior was unpardonable, it is difficult to envisage 25 years in prison for having kidnapped his own daughter while that daughter was still in her own home and not moved from site.

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