Child Abduction

Child Abduction in California

Child Stealing: California Penal Code Sections 278 and 278.5

California law defines Child Abduction, also known as Child Stealing, as two distinct crimes:

  • Child Abduction Without Custodial Right (Penal Code section 278) - applies to a person who does not have a legal right to custody, and who restrains, conceals or withholds a child from the person who has legal custody. Child Abduction is often perpetrated by parents, in-laws, relatives, grandparents and family members who have no legal rights to custody or visitation of the child. A parent who takes a child away before there is any court order issued is also subject to Child Abduction because parents have equal custody rights in the absence of a court order.
  • Child Abduction With Custodial Right (Penal Code section 278.5) - applies to a person who has lawful custody rights and who takes, withholds, keeps, entices away or conceals a child and maliciously deprives another lawful custodian of their right to custody, or deprives a person of a right to lawful visitation

If you believe you are being accused of Child Abduction or Child Stealing, contact a criminal defense attorney immediately to improve your chances of avoiding an arrest. Speaking to law enforcement officers or even government social workers can lead to incriminating yourself and your arrest.


The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office has a special unit of well-trained prosecutors and investigators who aggressively prosecute persons who conceal or withhold a child from a parent or legal guardian – even if the child is taken to another state or county. Child Abduction prosecutions are charged under California Penal Code section 278 (Child Abduction Without Custodial Right) and California Penal Code section 278.5 (Child Abduction With Custodial Right).

The main difference between those two laws is that Penal Code section 278 targets persons who do not have legal custody over the minor child, whereas Penal Code section 278.5, targets a person who has legal custody of the child and is accused of abducting the minor from another person who also has legal custody. Someone can be prosecuted even if the child consented to go with the suspect.

The penalties for child abduction are up to one year in county jail, a $1,000.00 fine, and three years probation for a misdemeanor. Felonies are punishable by up to four years in prison, along with a hefty fine of up to $10,000.

Legal Defenses

Several legal defenses can be raised by the attorney when facing charges of Child Abduction:

  • You had legal custody of the minor child you are accused of stealing; therefore you may not be guilty of the charge;
  • The person from whom you took the minor child from did not have legal custody of the child;
  • The person taking the child did not act maliciously (the person allegedly abducting the child had good intentions and did so to prevent physical or emotional harm by the custodian or another person, such as the custodian's boyfriend/girlfriend.

The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant interfered with and unlawfully detained a child with the intent to deprive another person of his or her right to visitation or custody. If the prosecutor fails to do this then you are entitled to an acquittal.

Los Angeles Child Abduction Defense Attorneys

If you are charged with Child Abduction or Child Stealing in Los Angeles you should contact an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer immediately. At Stephen G. Rodriguez & Partners, we bring over 50 years of combined criminal law experience to fight your case. Contact our office to confidentially discuss your legal situation and learn what legal options are available to you. We can address your concerns and answer all your questions in plain English.

See what over 70 years of experience can do for you. Contact Stephen G. Rodriguez & Partners.

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