Man Held Hostage Demands Portion of Award Money for Aiding Capture of Jail Escapees
If you’ve been kidnapped and convince your kidnappers to turn themselves in, should you get a share of the reward for their capture? A 71-year old taxi driver was reportedly kidnapped by 3 escapees from a California jail and held hostage for at least a week. Lon Hoang Ma, the victim, has sued in a court of law for a share of the $200,000 reward that was posted for the capture of the 3 escaped men.
After escaping from jail, inmates Bac Duong, Hossein Nayeri, and Jonathan Tieu called for a taxi. The unsuspecting taxi driver happened to be Ma, who drove them, at their request, to a local Walmart and Target shopping center. All seemed normal until the men walked out of Target with a gun, threatened Ma, and forced him to drive to a hotel where he was held hostage. Tieu and Nayeri, according to Ma, would often argue about wanting to kill Ma, but Duong was against it. Even so, Ma feared for his safety, as all 3 men were violent felons.
Ma reported that Duong was often cordial to him, despite the fact his partners wanted to kill him. Eventually, while Nayeri and Tieu were out with a stolen van, Ma claims he was able to persuade Duong to flee. Ma convinced Duong that the other 2 men would eventually kill him and that Duong would be an accessory to that crime even if he didn’t take part. Presuming Duong didn’t want to be an accessory, the pair decided to flee and took off on roughly a 400-mile drive south. It was during that drive that Ma says he persuaded Duong to surrender himself to the police.
Duong was arrested and Ma proceeded to give the Sheriff’s department more information about the events that took place during his kidnapping, which included information identifying Tieu and Nayeri’s known location and information regarding the stolen van that was in their possession. This information was then broadcast on local airways. A homeless man saw the broadcast and realized he had just spotted the missing men and flagged down a police officer. As a result, Tieu and Nayeri were ultimately caught.
The homeless man got $10,000 for reporting that he had spotted the men to a police officer, the owner of the stolen van received $20,000 for making a vehicle theft report, and 2 Target employees received $15,000 for recognizing that the men had purchased cell phones at their store. Ma received nothing even though he provided information leading to the capture of the escapees.
Who Qualifies For Reward Money?
In terms of contract law, a contract exists when there is offer, acceptance, and consideration. A reward offer is an offer for a unilateral contract, which is accepted by performance and that performance would be providing information leading to an arrest.
Ma isn’t the first to sue for reward money, but rewards will often not be issued to a victim while a case is pending because it can affect the outcome at trial when an eyewitness has to testify and disclose that they’ve received a reward. That doesn’t mean Ma shouldn’t be entitled to a portion of the reward, it just may need to be a delayed reward.
It’s Probably a Slippery Slope…
Consider a man commits a crime, decides to turn himself in, and then tries to claim the reward money for his own crime. Does the criminal have a legally valid claim to do so? No. The problem arises with the consideration portion of the equation. Consideration can come in the form of a promise (or performance) to do something that you’re not legally obligated to do or a promise not to do something you have the right to do (like file a lawsuit). A criminal can’t claim his own reward because he doesn’t have any consideration to give.
You obviously don’t want criminals claiming reward money for turning themselves in, but a hostage should be entitled to a portion of the reward if his information helped lead to the arrest of his captors. Ma accepted the offer when he provided information that ultimately led to the arrest of the jail escapees.
Ma wasn’t obligated to provide any of that information, so that’s his consideration. Whoever is paying out the reward has the ability to set the terms of eligibility for claiming the reward, but unless there is some missing information, the fact that Ma was a hostage shouldn’t hinder his ability to claim part of the reward.