Under Texas Penal Code § 20.04(d), a kidnapper who voluntarily frees his victim in a safe place reduces his or her punishment level for aggravated kidnapping from a first-degree to a second-degree felony. In construing a “safe place,” Texas courts consider seven factors:
- the remoteness of the location,
- the proximity of help,
- the time of day,
- the climate,
- the condition of the victim,
- the character of the location and surrounding neighborhood, and
- the victim’s familiarity with the location or neighborhood.
However, these factors are merely aids in defining what constitutes a “safe place,” which is made on a case-by-case basis, bearing in mind the totality of the circumstances.
In Butcher v. State, the appellant kidnapped the nine year-old complainant at knife point while the complainant was walking to school. After putting the complainant in his car, the appellant drove her to his apartment, bound her hands, and put her in his closet. After eight hours, the appellant decided to release the complainant and dropped her back off at the site of the kidnapping.
The appellant argued that because he returned the complainant back to the site of abduction during day-time, he released her in a safe place since the complainant’s mother allowed her “to walk to and from the school bus stop by herself before this incident, [the complainant] did not ask a passing mailman for help after she was released, and that [the complainant’s] mother described [the complainant] as independent.”
Applying the factors to Butcher, the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals held, nonetheless, that because the site of the kidnapping was “desolate,” the complainant was released in the middle of the road, the appellant kept the complainant’s cell phone, and the complainant’s family did not have a home phone, the site of the kidnapping was not a safe place.
Moreover, the Texas Court of Criminal appeals distinguished Butcher with Storr v. State. In Storr, the appellant had kidnapped the complainant, but, similarly, released him back at the site of the abduction. The Court held that the area was a safe place because the complainant was college-aged, released at a post office during business hours near his university, and he had available transportation. However, the complainant in Butcher was nine years old, released in the middle of a desolate road, did not have available transportation or a phone, and returned home with nobody there, thus rendering the site of the kidnapping unsafe.