Detaining someone without their will could result in charges of false imprisonment or even the more serious crime of kidnapping. Contact us at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney for help with your case when you are arrested or charged with false imprisonment.

Legal Definition and Elements of False Imprisonment

Based on the name of the crime, false imprisonment may be confused with being kept in jail or prison when you did not commit a crime. However, the average person can be guilty of false imprisonment in California.

California PC 236 defines false imprisonment as unlawfully detaining or restraining someone without their consent, depriving them of their liberty. False imprisonment is classified as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on whether you used force.

When charged with false imprisonment, the prosecution must present evidence that proves your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The elements of misdemeanor false imprisonment include:

  • You unlawfully and intentionally detained, restrained, or confined a person

  • You made the victim stay somewhere against their will

For felony false imprisonment, the prosecution must prove these elements:

  • You intentionally and unlawfully detained, restrained, or confined a person through violence, menace, deceit, fraud, or coercion

  • You made the victim stay somewhere against their will

False imprisonment is considered a general intent crime. This means that you (the defendant) acted deliberately, causing the victim to lose their liberty.

Acting against the victim's will means that the victim did not agree or consent to being detained, contained, or restrained. And if they did, they did so out of fear or without fully understanding the nature of your actions.

Using violence means using more force than was reasonably necessary to restrain someone. Menace refers to explicit or implied threats of harm.

False Imprisonment Vs. False Arrest

False arrest is another term often used interchangeably for false imprisonment. False imprisonment can occur when people with legal authority to arrest a person (including law enforcement and private citizens) deprive someone of their physical liberty by unlawfully restraining them.

False arrests are a way in which people with legal authority to arrest someone do so unlawfully. This can happen when the arresting officer does not have probable cause to detain someone or uses an invalid warrant.

An invalid warrant:

  • Does not adequately identify the arrestee

  • Fails to specify the crime the arrestee is being arrested for

  • Does not name the court issuing the warrant

  • Was obtained through deception

False Imprisonment and Domestic Violence

False imprisonment charges are common in domestic violence cases. It includes restraining a person within their home and preventing them from leaving against their will. It can be temporary or permanent.

Scenarios where false imprisonment can be considered domestic violence include:

  • Locking up for an intimate partner in another room

  • Hiding your partner’s car keys to keep them from leaving

  • Blocking a door to prevent a person from leaving

  • Locking a child up in a room as punishment (it is considered violence or a crime when you do so outside the realm of reasonable discipline for the offense. For example, locking a child in a closet is considered child abuse. However, giving them a timeout in the corner of the living room is not).

False Imprisonment in the Workplace

As an employer, you may be found liable for false imprisonment if you hold an employee against their will. This is common when an employer suspects an employee of wrongdoing and unnecessarily detains them to investigate or coerce a confession. As an employer, you can investigate your employees for suspected theft. Still, it should be reasonable, and you should release them within a reasonable time or release them to law enforcement.

Legal Defenses

Charges of false imprisonment can result in significant time in jail or prison. However, you can fight these charges with the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney to improve the case's outcome. Some of the common defenses you can apply in a false imprisonment charge include:

  1. Consent

False imprisonment occurs when you detain, confine, or restrain another person without their consent. However, if they agreed to be detained/restrained/confined, you can use consent as a defense.

When using this defense, you must present evidence that the alleged victim gave voluntary and informed consent. They knew that you were restraining them and that they would be unable to leave the area.

You must also prove that you kept them restrained/confined for the agreed time. If you have phone conversations or eyewitnesses that can back you up, you should present them in court as evidence.

  1. You Did Not Imprison the Victim

False imprisonment occurs when you prevent someone from leaving a place without their consent. However, if you did not detain them, and they mistook the situation for detention, then you can use this as a defense.

For example, suppose you and your girlfriend are in your house. You get into an argument, and she intends to leave. However, she cannot find her car keys and assumes you took them. She calls her father, and they file a police report against you.

Later, it turns out she had her keys in her purse all along. In this case, you can assert that she mistakenly believed she left her keys in the entryway – as she normally does.

  1. Legal Authority to Restrain

If you are a law enforcement or police officer charged with false imprisonment, you can assert the defense that you had the legal authority to restrain the person. As a police officer, you have the right to detain a citizen under the following circumstances:

  • You have a valid arrest warrant

  • The person committed a crime in your presence

  • You had probable cause the person was committing a felony (even if you did not witness the crime happening)

If the false imprisonment charge arises from a stop on the streets, you must demonstrate that:

  • You had reasonable suspicion that a crime was happening. You’ll need to prove that your reasonable suspicion was based on objective facts. For example, you noticed a person driving erratically and thus were suspicious that they were driving under the influence.

  • If you searched the person, you did not search beneath their clothes

  • You did not detain the person for longer than was necessary

Private citizens also have the legal authority to arrest someone they witnessed or reasonably believed was committing a crime. If you were charged with false imprisonment after performing a citizen's arrest, presenting evidence that you followed the right procedure works as a defense. The right procedure involves:

  • You informed the person that they were under arrest

  • You specified the reason for the arrest

  • You expressed the authority to arrest the person

  • You arrested the person within a reasonable time after you witnessed them committing a misdemeanor or felony offense. Therefore, you cannot witness someone robbing a crime, then arrest them the following day when you spot them at another store.

  • You did not use force or used reasonable force when arresting the person

  • You took precautions to ensure your safety and that of the arrestee

  • You called authorities as soon as possible during or after the arrest

  1. Self Defense

Every American citizen has the right to defend themselves and others from harm. You could use self-defense as a legal argument to prove that you were not guilty of false imprisonment if your acts were to protect yourself or others from the person.

However, you must demonstrate that you used reasonable force when detaining/restraining the person.

  1. Parental Rights

Parents can discipline their children, including with measures that limit their freedom. However, this discipline must be reasonable and not harmful to the child. For example, you can impose a curfew for them not to leave the house after 6 PM.

However, it would be considered abusive if you locked them in the bathroom as punishment.

  1. Shopkeeper’s Privilege

Shopkeepers in the US have the right to detain shoplifting suspects within their premises. When a shopkeeper suspects someone is attempting or committing shoplifting, they can detain them for a reasonable amount of time.

Therefore, if charges of false imprisonment arise from detaining a suspected shoplifter, you can use this defense.

When using your shopkeeper’s privilege as a defense, the prosecution will examine the circumstances around the detention to ensure that you did not exceed the limits of your privilege. These limits require that:

  • You detain the customer for a reasonable time and just enough to investigate whether they shoplifted

  • You should not use force when detaining the customer

  • If you must use force, it must be reasonable (not deadly)

  1. False Accusations

False accusations can arise in false imprisonment cases. The alleged victim can lie to the police out of spite to get back at you.

Since these accusations are damaging, hire a skilled attorney to help you fight these allegations. They will question witnesses and examine the prosecution's evidence to fight these charges.

Note: False imprisonment is a general intent crime. Therefore, a lack of intent to falsely imprison a person is not a defense. Therefore, you can still be guilty of false imprisonment if you want to talk with someone and prevent someone from leaving.

Penalties and Sentencing

PC 237 outlines the penalties and consequences of false imprisonment. Under this statute, false imprisonment is a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on whether you used force, violence, or menace to falsely imprison the victim.

Misdemeanor false imprisonment occurs if the offense does not involve violence, fraud, deceit, or menace. The offense carries a jail sentence of up to one year. The court might place you on misdemeanor probation instead of serving jail time.

Felony false imprisonment charges arise if you use force, violence, fraud, deceit, or menace to falsely imprison the victim. The offense carries a jail sentence of 16 months, two years, or three years.

PC 237 has provisions for enhanced sentencing depending on other circumstances present in a case. For example, falsely imprisoning an elder or a dependent parent carries an additional three years in prison if the victim is under 70 years old and another five years if the victim is over 70.

Where false imprisonment causes the death of an elder or a dependent parent, you'll serve an additional five years if the victim is under 70 years and an additional seven years if they are older than 70.

A felony conviction, especially where you committed the offense through violence or menace, could have negative immigration consequences for non-citizens.

In addition to criminal consequences, victims of false imprisonment can file a civil suit if they incur any damages from the incident.

Related Offenses

False imprisonment is one of the offenses where the victim loses their liberty due to the actions of another person. The prosecution can bring other charges, such as kidnapping instead of false imprisonment, depending on the circumstances of the alleged offense and the evidence available. Here are the common offenses:

  1. False Imprisonment of a Hostage to Avoid Arrest

Restraining another person against their will to avoid arrest or capture is an offense under California PC 210.5. False imprisonment under PC 236 only requires proof that you intentionally limited another person’s liberty.

When falsely imprisoning a person in a hostage situation, you limit their liberty and do so intending to avoid arrest or capture. The crime is always a felony as it increases the risks of harm to the victim.

The elements of false imprisonment of a hostage to avoid arrest include:

  • There was a threat of your imminent arrest

  • You confined, detained, or confined another person using force or threats

  • You did so to protect yourself from arrest or capture

  • you made the victim stay or go somewhere else against their will

  • And you substantially increased the risk of harm to the other person or intended to use them as a human shield

If you did not increase the risk of harm to another person, the prosecution might reduce the offense to the general crime of false imprisonment.

Falsely imprisoning a hostage to avoid capture or arrest is a felony with a jail term of three, five, or eight years. The court may also impose sentence enhancements depending on the circumstances of the offense. For example, if the victim sustains great bodily injury, the court will impose an additional and consecutive state prison sentence of three to six years on your sentence.

In addition to false imprisonment of a hostage to avoid arrest, you will also face charges for the offense that triggered your initial arrest, for example, robbery.

  1. Child Abduction

You could be charged with child abduction if the victim of false imprisonment was a child. Child abduction under PC 278 refers to the crime of taking a child and keeping them away from its parents or legal guardians when you don’t have the right of custody.

The elements of child abduction include:

  • You maliciously withheld or took a child from their lawful custodian

  • The child was under 18 years of age

  • You did not have the right to custody of the child when you committed the offense

  • You took the child intending to conceal or detain them from their lawful custodian

A lawful custodian has the right of custody, that is, physical care and control of the child. Someone can be a lawful custodian by law or due to a court order.

For this offense, malice occurs when you intentionally commit a wrongful act or act in a way that disturbs, defrauds, annoys, or injures someone else.

Child abduction violates the child's lawful custodian's rights rather than those of the abducted child. Therefore, it is still a crime even when the child agrees to go with you.

Child abduction is a wobbler. A misdemeanor charge carries a jail sentence of up to a year. A felony conviction, on the other hand, results in a jail or prison sentence of up to four years. Whether you spend time in jail or prison will depend on your criminal record.

If you have prior violent felonies or crimes that require registration as a sex offender, you will be sentenced to state prison.

  1. Kidnapping

False imprisonment is a component of kidnapping, as kidnapping cannot happen without falsely imprisoning the victim. The offense is often used as a plea bargain in kidnapping cases, especially when the prosecution has too strong evidence that would be impossible to overcome in a criminal trial.

PC 207 defines kidnapping as holding, detaining, stealing, or arresting another person and moving them over a significant distance without their consent and using fear or force. The elements of kidnapping include:

  • You took, held, or detained someone using force or fear

  • You moved the person over a substantial distance

  • Without that person’s consent

Force is using physical force, such as dragging or restraining the victim. Force may include activities such as beating up the alleged victim into compliance or picking up an unresisting victim and taking them away.

Using fear means you create a situation where the victim is forced to comply out of fear of impending harm to themselves or their loved ones. For instance, if you hold them at gunpoint or threaten violence.

Fraud is a common element in aggravated kidnapping cases. It involves deliberately deceiving the victim into compliance by misrepresenting the nature of the act. In kidnapping cases involving fraud, the defendant obtains the victims' consent without knowing what the perpetrator intends.

Kidnapping occurs when the victim does not consent to be moved. Consent refers to a voluntary agreement.

Substantial movement is also a key element that distinguishes kidnapping from false imprisonment. Substantial movement varies depending on the case. It could be moving the victim to another country, state, county, or another location within the county.

When considering whether the distance moved was substantial, the court considers:

  • The actual distance moved

  • Whether the distance allowed the perpetrator to avoid detection or increased harm to the victim

The penalties for kidnapping depend on the circumstances of the offense.

Simple kidnapping is a felony carrying a prison sentence of three, five, or eight years. Aggravated kidnapping is also a felony that carries more severe prison sentences.

  • Aggravated kidnapping of a victim under 14 carries five, eight, or eleven years in prison.

  • Kidnapping to ask for a ransom carries a life sentence with the possibility of parole.

  • Kidnapping for ransom carries a life sentence without the possibility of parole if the victim dies, suffers bodily harm, or is exposed to a situation that creates a significant risk of death.

Kidnapping is a serious felony in California. A conviction counts as a strike on your record. If you have two prior strikes on your record, the third strike results in a mandatory sentence of at least 25 years to life in prison.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Can you be charged with false imprisonment if you had no intention to imprison the person?

Yes. You could be charged with false imprisonment even if you did not intend to falsely imprison a person. The prosecution has to prove that the intentional actions you took caused the person to remain or go somewhere without their consent.

It's also not important to physically restrain the person, for instance, by tying their hands or feet, as long as you imprison them.

  1. Can a victim sue me for false imprisonment?

Victims can sue you for damages they incur when you falsely imprison them. They can sue for any medical costs incurred, lost wages, mental distress, and presumed damages. They could sue you for these damages even if your criminal case did not result in a conviction.

  1. What are some examples of false imprisonment?

False imprisonment occurs when you intentionally restrain another person without their consent or legal authority. It can occur when a bank robber prevents anyone from leaving the bank until they finish robbing the place when a police officer arrests someone without a legal justification, locks someone in a room without their consent, detaining a suspected shoplifter for longer than is reasonable, or holding on to a person to keep them from leaving.

Find a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

An attorney should be one of the first people you contact when facing criminal charges for false imprisonment. They will help you navigate the criminal justice system, including helping you avoid self-incrimination and help you prepare a defense for your case. Los Angeles Criminal Attorney works closely with clients facing false imprisonment and related charges, helping you understand what's happening in each step of the process. Contact us for a free consultation at 424-333-0943.