Service & Results.

nyc criminal lawyers over 30 years of experienceWe Know How To Win Cases

Spodek Law Group handles tough cases
nationwide, that demand excellence.

Get Free Consultation

Faced 5+ Years in Prison

People Vs Joseph Amico

Covered by NYDaily News. Las Vegas man accused of threatening a prominent attorney and making vile remarks.

Faced 10+ Years in Prison

People Vs. Anna Sorokin

Covered by New York Times, and other outlets. Fake heiress accused of conning the city’s wealthy, and has an HBO special being made about her.

Faced 3+ Years in Prison

People Vs. Genevieve Sabourin

Accused of stalking Alec Baldwin. The case garnered nationwide attention, with USAToday, NYPost, and other media outlets following it closely.

Faced Potential Charges

Ghislaine Maxwell Juror

Juror who prompted calls for new Ghislaine Maxwell trial turns to lawyer who defended Anna Sorokin.

Why Choose Us

Clients can use our portal to track the status of their case, stay in touch with us, upload documents, and more.

Regardless of the type of situation you're facing, our attorneys are here to help you get quality representation.

We can setup consultations in person, over Zoom, or over the phone to help you. Bottom line, we're here to help you win your case.

Law in the Media

View All

Meet Todd Spodek


The Spodek Law Group understands how delicate high-profile cases can be, and has a strong track record of getting positive outcomes. Our lawyers service a clientele that is nationwide. With offices in both LA and NYC, and cases all across the country - Spodek Law Group is a top tier law firm.

Todd Spodek is a second generation attorney with immense experience. He has many years of experience handling 100’s of tough and hard to win trials. He’s been featured on major news outlets, such as New York Post, Newsweek, Fox 5 New York, South China Morning Post, Insider.com, and many others.

In 2022, Netflix released a series about one of Todd’s clients: Anna Delvey/Anna Sorokin.

Why Clients Choose Spodek Law Group

The reason is simple: clients want white glove service, and lawyers who can win. Every single client who works with the Spodek Law Group is aware that the attorney they hire could drastically change the outcome of their case. Hiring the Spodek Law Group means you’re taking your future seriously. Our lawyers handle cases nationwide, ranging from NYC to LA. Our philosophy is fair and simple: our nyc criminal lawyers only take on clients who we know will benefit from our services.

We’re selective about the clients we work with, and only take on cases we know align with our experience – and where we can make a difference. This is different from other law firms who are not invested in your success nor care about your outcome.

If you have a legal issue, call us for a consultation.
We are available 24/7, to help you with any – and all, challenges you face.

Federal Hostage Taking Law – 18 U.S. Code § 1203: Explained and Analyzed

By Spodek Law Group | February 14, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 18, 2023)

Last Updated on: 18th October 2023, 09:02 am

Federal Hostage Taking Law – 18 U.S. Code § 1203: Explained and Analyzed

The federal hostage taking statute, 18 U.S. Code § 1203, is an important law that prohibits the seizing or detaining of a person in order to compel another party to meet demands. This article will provide an in-depth explanation and analysis of this law, including its background, key provisions, penalties, and defenses.

Background of 18 U.S. Code § 1203

The federal hostage taking law was enacted by Congress in 1984 as part of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act. It implemented the International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages, which the United States had signed in 1979.

Prior to this law, there was a gap in federal law regarding hostage taking scenarios that occurred outside the United States or that were designed to compel the U.S. government to take some action. The new statute established federal jurisdiction over these types of hostage situations.

The purpose of 18 U.S. Code § 1203 was to send a strong message that the U.S. would not tolerate the taking of hostages, whether American citizens or foreign nationals. It brought the country into compliance with the international treaty and filled a void in the federal criminal code.

Key Provisions of the Hostage Taking Statute

There are several key elements that prosecutors must prove to establish a violation of 18 U.S. Code § 1203:

  • Seizing, detaining, threatening, or harming a person – The law applies very broadly to any act of seizing, detaining, threatening, or physically harming another individual. Even a brief detention against the person’s will qualifies.
  • Purpose of compelling action – The hostage taking must be for the purpose of compelling some particular action or inaction from a third party. This third party is often the government but does not have to be.
  • Explicit or implicit condition for release – The hostage taker must be demanding the third party action as an explicit or implicit condition for the release of the hostage. There must be a quid pro quo involved.
  • Jurisdictional nexus – The hostage taking must either occur outside the U.S. or within the U.S. with the purpose of compelling the U.S. government. Purely domestic scenarios may still qualify if they affect interstate or foreign commerce.

In addition, attempting or conspiring to take hostages also violates the statute even if the plan is not carried out. The law applies no matter the nationality of the perpetrator, as long as federal jurisdiction is established.

Penalties for Violating the Hostage Taking Statute

The penalties for being convicted under 18 U.S. Code § 1203 are quite severe. The maximum punishment depends primarily on whether the hostage dies during the incident:

  • If victim dies – Death or life imprisonment
  • If victim is not released – Up to life imprisonment
  • All other cases – Up to 20 years imprisonment

Fines and terms of supervised release may also be imposed on top of any prison sentence.

Perhaps the harshest penalty is that the death sentence can apply if a hostage dies during a hostage taking scenario that was intended to compel the U.S. government in some way. This demonstrates how seriously the law takes these acts.

Federal vs. State Jurisdiction Over Hostage Taking

An important aspect of 18 U.S. Code § 1203 is that it is primarily intended to establish federal jurisdiction over international hostage scenarios or those meant to compel the U.S. government in some way.

Purely domestic hostage situations with no federal nexus are usually prosecuted under state laws instead. However, federal charges may still apply concurrently if the act affects interstate or foreign commerce.

Prosecutors have wide discretion in determining whether to bring charges under the federal hostage taking statute or applicable state laws in any given case.

Defenses to Federal Hostage Taking Charges

While 18 U.S. Code § 1203 covers a broad range of activity, there are some potential defenses that a defendant can raise:

  • No intent to compel action – If there is evidence showing the detention was not actually intended to force a third party to do or not do something, this negates a key element of the crime.
  • No threat to injure – Without any threat to harm the hostage, it is difficult to prove the detention was meant to compel action.
  • No federal nexus – If the alleged hostage taking occurred domestically and did not target the federal government, the federal law may not apply.
  • Duress – There may be an argument the defendant acted under immediate threat of death or serious harm to themselves or others.
  • Mental condition – The defendant can argue they lacked the mental capacity to form the intent required by the statute.

An experienced federal criminal defense attorney can analyze the specific facts of any case to determine if a viable defense exists.

Analysis of Key Court Decisions

There have been several important federal court decisions interpreting and applying 18 U.S. Code § 1203 over the years. These precedents have helped shape prosecutors’ use of the law.

United States v. Carrion-Caliz (1991)

This Fifth Circuit case held that a hostage is “seized” or “detained” within the meaning of the statute whenever they are confined or held against their will for an appreciable period of time. Even brief detentions qualify.

United States v. Lopez-Flores (1995)

Here, the Ninth Circuit ruled that a hostage’s initial agreement to accompany the hostage taker does not prevent a later “seizure” or “detention” under the law. This means even a voluntary accompaniment can become an unlawful hostage taking.

United States v. Sierra-Velasquez (2002)

In the context of alien smuggling, the Ninth Circuit found there was detention under the statute once the smugglers began holding people in a manner not originally agreed upon. At that point, it became hostage taking.

Examples of Hostage Taking Scenarios

To better understand how 18 U.S. Code § 1203 operates, it helps to look at some examples of situations that could lead to charges:

  • A bank robber holds a customer hostage and threatens to harm them unless police let the robber escape safely. (Domestic scenario affecting interstate commerce).
  • Terrorists capture American tourists abroad and threaten to behead them if their demands are not met. (International scenario).
  • A mentally unstable person takes hostages on a commercial airplane and demands it fly to another country. (Purpose of compelling U.S. government action).
  • A drug trafficker holds an informant hostage and demands the DEA drop the charges against him in exchange for the informant’s release. (Attempt to compel U.S. law enforcement).
  • An extremist group kidnaps a U.S. diplomat on foreign soil to force policy changes. (International act targeting government).
  • A parent takes their child across state lines in violation of a custody order and threatens harm unless the other parent drops legal proceedings. (Interstate activity).


The federal hostage taking statute, 18 U.S. Code § 1203, provides an important tool for prosecuting these dangerous crimes in scenarios affecting the U.S. government or interstate/foreign commerce.

The law implements an international treaty condemning hostage taking and carries stiff penalties, especially if the victim dies during the incident. Prosecutors have used the statute in a variety of situations to send a strong message that this conduct will not be tolerated.

Defendants facing charges do have opportunities to raise legal defenses challenging the government’s ability to prove each element of the crime. But given the broad scope of the law, a conviction is difficult to avoid in many cases.

The hostage taking statute will likely continue serving an important role in the federal criminal justice system for the foreseeable future.

Free Consultation


I was searching for a law firm with some power to help me deal with a warrant in New York . After 6 days I decided to go with Spodek Law Group. It helped that This law firm is well respected by not only the top law firms in New York , but the DA , Judge as well. I...

~Fonder Brandon

5 Stars
It was my good fortune to retain Spodek Law Group for representation for my legal needs. From the beginning, communication was prompt and thorough. Todd, Kenneth and Alex were the first people I worked with and they all made me, and my company Qumana skincare feel comfortable and confident that the team was going to work hard for me. Everything...

~A G

5 Stars
After meeting with several law firms, I chose the Spodek Law Group not only for their professionalism and experience, but for the personal attention given to me right from the initial consultation. It is important to recognize how crucial having the right legal team is when faced with potentially life altering events that impact families and the lives of loved...

~George Cherubini

Spodek Law Group

White Glove Service

We Provide Superior Service, Excellent Results, At A Level Superior To Other Criminal Defense Law Firms. Regardless Of Where Your Case Is, Nationwide, We Can Help You.
View More

Request Free Consultation

Please fill out the form below to receive a free consultation, we will respond to
your inquiry within 24-hours guaranteed.


85 Broad St 30th Floor, New York, NY 10004


get directions

Los Angeles

611 S Catalina St Suite 222, Los Angeles, CA 90005


get directions


35-37 36th St, 2nd Floor Astoria, NY 11106


get directions


195 Montague St., 14th Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201


get directions
Call Now!