|TO: Alan Connor, Supervising Attorney
RE: Benjamin Chang-kidnapping charges
DATE: 14th September, 2018
Under Arizona law is a person guilty of kidnapping with intent to use as ransom when a request led to the confinement of another in a room with added security measures and explosives were found near potentially incriminating evidence?
Probably no. Kidnapping occurs when a person knowingly restrains another absent consent and with intent to use that person for ransom. In this case, it is likely that Chang knowingly restrained Pelton. However, the evidence is insufficient to demonstrate he intended to use him as ransom.
Mr. Benjamin Chang. Mr. Chang is the former Dean of Greendale Community College. He is accused of kidnapping his predecessor, Craig Pelton, who is not the College’s current Dean. The controversial death of a student by the name Alex “Star-Burns” Osbourne, resulted in significant controversy, which precipitated chaos and property damage. As a result, Mr. Pelton was demoted from the position of Dean and Mr. Chang, the then head security officer of the College, promoted.
A group of students suspected that Mr. Chang had kidnapped Mr. Pelton because, in their view, the latter’s actions had changed and he even expelled supported expulsion of Greendale 7, whom he had been openly fond of. Because of these suspicions, the students generated the theory that Dean Chang hired a “doppel-dean-er” to impersonate Mr. Pelton and then locked the real dean in the basement room.
Mr. Chang and members of the school board organized a celebration, during Mr. Chang’s birthday. During the celebration, Mr. Chang rigged fireworks in the school records room but Greendale 7 stopped the fireworks from detonating and at that point, they discovered that Mr. Pelton had been locked in the basement room. Mr. Pelton states that he received adequate food and furnishings while locked in the room and was not threatened with any physical harm.
Mr. Chang’s position is that he had asked Mr. Pelton to check on a broken pipe in the basement room, but that nothing came of that inquiry, and he added security to that room to prevent further damage to school property post-riot. He avers that he did not know that Mr. Pelton was in the basement room when he ordered the additional security measures and that he did not intend to hurt anyone with the fireworks show.
Under the Arizona Kidnapping Law, Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-1304, a person is deemed to have kidnapped another if they knowingly restrained that other person with the intent to hold them for ransom, as a shield or hostage. Kidnapping, under applicable Arizona case law, does require an accused person to have physically moved a victim from one place to another, and that the use of intimidation, threats or deception by an accused person satisfies the Statute’s absence-of-consent element.
In the leading case of State v. Latham, 219 P.3d 280, the Appellant challenged his conviction of, among other offences, kidnapping a woman. His averment was that the prosecution had not presented sufficient evidence, during the trial, to demonstrate that he had restrained the movement of his victim. He further contended that he could not have kidnapped the victim, as he did not move her from her house to the alleged confinement. While dismissing Latham’s appeal and affirming his conviction, the Arizona Court of Appeals expressed the view that the offence of kidnapping, within the meaning of the Statute, does not require an accused person to have physically moved a victim from one place to another. The Court further held that use of intimidation, threats or deception by an accused person could satisfy the Statute’s absence-of-consent element. Consequently, the Court found that Latham kidnapped the victim when he, by his threat to kill the victim, caused her to leave the house and drive to the credit union to get money.
In State v. Larin, 310 P.3d 990, the Court of Appeal of Arizona considered an Appeal challenging the Appelant’s conviction by the jury for among other offences, kidnapping. The Appellant’s position was that the jury erred in finding that he had the intent to commit the offence. In dismissing the Appeal, the Court held that the key distinguishing element between kidnapping and other related offences, such as unlawful imprisonment, is the accused person’s state of mind at the point he restrains the victim. In that case, the Appellant’s intention was deduced from evidence showing that he, and his accomplices, had held their victims at gunpoint, robbed them and ordered them to stay in one of the rooms of the victims’ house.
The case of State v. Stone, 594 P.2d 558, is instructive as to what amounts to intention to kidnap. In that case, the Defendant had been convicted before the Superior Court in Maricopa County for the offence of kidnapping with an intention to hold their victim as a shield or hostage. He argued before the Arizona Court of Appeals that the prosecution had not, during the trial, demonstrated how he had used his victims as “hostages” or “shields”. While holding in favour of the Defendant, the Court of Appeal stated that the specific intention to hold victims as either hostages or shields ought to be supported by cogent evidence.
Turning to the facts of this case, there is no doubt that Mr. Pelton was confined in the basement room. However, there is no nexus between his confinement and the conduct of Mr. Chang. Even if the prosecution succeeds in showing the employees of the College caused the confinement of Mr. pelton, the facts in this case are dissimilar from those in Latham as Mr. Chang neither physically took Mr. Pelton into the basement room, nor did he threaten, deceive, or otherwise cause Mr. Pelton to enter into said room. Mr. Chang contends that he merely asked Mr. Pelton to check on a broken pipe, and that Mr. Pelton eventually returned after the inquiry.
In absence of those crucial elements, it follows that Mr. Chang cannot be said to have physically kidnapped Mr. Pelton. The fact that Mr. Chang rigged fireworks is of no legal consequence, as he did so at a birthday celebration and did not intend to harm Mr. Pelton. Indeed, Mr. Pelton himself admits that during the period of the alleged kidnap, he neither lacked food or furnishings nor was he threatened with any physical harm.
The most crucial element in any criminal proceedings is proof by the mens rea prescribed by penal statutes. In this case, § 13-1304 demands that the prosecution must show intention to hold the victim for ransom, as a shield or hostage. Therefore, even if all the evidence produced by the prosecution demonstrates the actual nexus between the alleged confinement of Mr. Pelton by Mr. Chang (and or his agents), that alone does not satisfy the statutory elements of the crime in question. Unlike the facts in Larin, there is no evidence that Mr. Chang wanted to restrain Mr. Pelton, neither is there evidence to demonstrate Mr. Changs’ intention to use Mr. pelton as ransom, as a shield or hostage. The conclusion by the prosecution as to Mr. Chang’s state of mind is only based on Greendale 7’s theory and not cogent evidence, documentary or otherwise. Such a premise does not meet the threshold established by the Court in Stone.
The prosecution could attempt to demonstrate Mr. Chang’s intention to kidnap Mr. Pelton, by relying on Greendale 7’s theory that Mr. Chang hired a “doppel-dean-er” to impersonate Mr. Pelton and the fact that Mr. Chang had access to the video monitoring the basement room to show, and as such, he knew or he ought to have known of Mr. Pelton’s confinement.
A further argument by the prosecution could be that based on Latham, Mr. Chang used deception to trap Mr. Pelton by sending him to the basement to check on a broken pipe, hence Mr. Chang’s actions meet the lack-of-consent element of the crime. That Mr. Pelton received adequate food and furnishings while locked in the basement room could be relied on by the prosecution to demonstrate that the dean, who was in control of the room, was aware of the detention of Mr. Pelton and consistently supplied him with food. However, the prosecution may not be able to adduce any evidence as to the relevant mens rea: the specific intent to hold Mr. pelton for ransom, as a shield or hostage.
Weighing the above rival arguments, it emerges that most of the evidence that the prosecution seeks to rely on will be speculative and might not prove all the elements of the alleged crime. Although the prosecution could succeed in proving that Mr. Chang knowingly restrained Mr. Pelton, the evidence in its possession cannot establish Mr. Chang’s intention to use the victim as ransom, as a shield or hostage. Accordingly, the upshot would be that Mr. Chang should take a plea of not guilty, necessitating a full trial. Ultimately, the Court will most likely acquit Mr. Chang.
In the alternative, the defence could approach the prosecution for plea bargaining. If the plea negotiations succeed, Mr. Chang could plead guilty to the lesser offence of false imprisonment.
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