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Kidnapping - Impact Of The Lindbergh Kidnapping

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The details of the history of the American law of kidnapping are sparse at best, at least until the notorious kidnapping and murder of the one-year-old son of the famous aviator Charles A. Lindbergh. The capture and trial of the kidnapper, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, sparked great national attention in 1932. Hauptmann was not even tried for kidnapping, which would only have been a high misdemeanor under New Jersey law at the time. With inadequate evidence to prove premeditated murder, the prosecution eventually convicted Hauptmann under the felony murder doctrine for a death resulting during the course of a burglary. Stealing a child was not covered under the burglary laws, so Hauptmann was convicted (and eventually executed) for a death that resulted during the theft of the baby's clothes (State v. Hauptmann, 115 N.J.L. 412 (1935)).

This episode caught the nation's attention and sparked legislative action even before the trial was completed. The result was the so-called Lindbergh Law, adopted by Congress (18 U.S.C. §§ 1201–1202). The Lindbergh Law makes kidnapping a federal crime when the abducted individual is taken across state lines. Though not originally a capital offense, the law was later amended to give juries the discretion to recommend the death penalty in particularly heinous cases. The Supreme Court later declared the death penalty unconstitutional as it applied to the Lindbergh Law (U.S. v. Jackson, 390 U.S. 570 (1968)).

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