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False Imprisonment: Everything You Need to Know

Updated: Apr 22, 2022

Defining "False Imprisonment" And What It Legally Means

False imprisonment (also known as wrongful imprisonment) occurs when one person is wrongly arrested and imprisoned by another. False imprisonment may be the subject of a civil case. The detainee receives compensation for any injury or other damages sustained due to the incident in these types of cases. Your case's details are crucial, as they may mean the difference between three years in jail and life without parole. It's important to keep in mind, though, that just because you've been convicted doesn't mean you're guilty. An experienced Criminal Defense Attorney will defend you against overbearing prosecutors and ensure that you receive a fair outcome.

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In a nutshell, false imprisonment happens when someone (let's call them Person A) is held against their will by someone else (Person B). Furthermore, Person B is required to:

  • intend to keep the complainant in custody

  • do it without being able to prove that you have the legal authority to do so

False arrest is similar to false imprisonment, although there are several differences. A legal authority would almost always be involved in a false arrest argument, while false imprisonment may be committed by anyone, regardless of whether an arrest followed the imprisonment.

What does False Imprisonment (PC 236 PC) entail?

False imprisonment is illegal in California, according to Penal Code 236 PC. In general, Penal Code 236 PC refers to false imprisonment. In certain cases, some rules apply against false imprisonment. Penal Code 210.5 PC, for example, governs false imprisonment in the sense of escaping detention or capture.

False imprisonment is described in Penal Code 236 PC as the unlawful deprivation of another's personal liberty. This is a vague description that won't help you figure out whether you can contest a Penal Code 236 PC fee. Looking at the meaning the court would use to decide whether or not false imprisonment has occurred is even more helpful:

  • False imprisonment is the act of restraining, detaining, or confining another person without their permission, usually through the use of violence or threat.

  • Restraining, detaining, or confining – The word "false imprisonment" is perplexing since it implies that a breach of Penal Code 236 PC will only happen if someone is jailed or imprisoned. The reality is that false imprisonment can happen in a variety of places and by a variety of methods. In reality, a Penal Code 236 PC violation does not require the victim to be physically restrained or confined. All they have to do is imagine themselves being imprisoned or confined.

    • Intentional – You must have made a conscious and deliberate decision.

  • Penal Code 236 PC deals with whether or not physical force was used. Even then, the prosecutor must prove that the physical force used was no more than was reasonable in the circumstances. The trick in these circumstances, of course, is to show that the force used was both necessary and fair.

    • Danger – Also, the threat of force may be used to wrongly imprison anyone.

Illegal Detention

In order for a plaintiff to be held voluntarily, he or she must be restricted to a specific location and unable to escape. An unconstitutional warrant that prohibits an individual from leaving the country, for example, may be as small as a chair or as big as a state or other geographic region. When anyone is stopped from accessing a certain location, this is not usually referred to as detention.

  • Either real force or the threat of force must be used in the arrest. Locking someone in a prison cell, a closet, tying them to a chair, or gripping their arm and not letting go are all clear examples of using coercion, but something that prevents someone from leaving an area willingly would almost certainly qualify.

  • A threat of force may also result in detention if the threat makes a rational individual think they will be harmed in any way if they leave the region. Threats made by deceit are included (like being threatened with a toy gun). The key is that any rational person would feel they had no other option but to stay in custody.

  • It is not necessary for the damage threatened to be physical harm; a credible threat to the plaintiff's property or reputation would likely suffice. It's worth noting that the danger doesn't always have to be about immediate consequences, but the perceived harm must be imminent.

  • The person detained will not be able to easily flee, thus avoiding the threat of injury. If such a means exists and the individual does not use it, the detention may be deemed voluntary, and the defendant may be exempt from responsibility for false imprisonment.

  • Even if the "detained" individual believes they are forced to stay, no imprisonment exists if they are stopped by a store employee but are not ordered to stay in the store or otherwise prohibited from leaving. However, reasonable suspicion of a public struggle or a reasonable assumption that someone is a law enforcement officer or other authority figures could be enough to rule out the possibility of a quick getaway.

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Defendant's Intention to Detain

It is not enough for a defendant to have established the circumstances that confined the plaintiff by mistake or negligence, such as locking a closet door without realizing anyone was inside. False imprisonment, on the other hand, occurs when a defendant tries to imprison one person but inadvertently imprisons another.

  • In the vast majority of cases, the legality of detention is determined by the legality of the arrest that preceded it. However, even though an arrest was legal, holding the complainant in jail after being found not guilty—or in custody for longer than a sentence allows—can result in false imprisonment.

  • In the case of shoplifters, the question of whether detention was lawful also occurs. Most states have laws dictating when (and for how long) a store owner may hold a suspected shoplifter in custody.

In most cases, the shop owner may have "probable cause" to suspect that the person detained has stolen something. The arrest is likely illegal without probable cause, and the shop owner has likely committed false imprisonment, as long as the other elements are met (no easy escape, etc.). Even if probable cause exists, the shop owner can be held liable for false imprisonment if the complainant is detained for too long or unfairly or excessively.

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False imprisonment can be committed in a number of ways. An individual must prove three elements to establish false arrest:

  • A police officer detained the person

  • The individual was actually harmed

  • The officer's actions played a significant role in the person's injury

The officer now has the responsibility of proving that probable cause exists for the arrest after the individual has made this display. To escape liability, the officer must show that a reasonable officer would have had probable cause to arrest the individual more often than not. If the evidence that led to the arrest is uncontested, the matter of whether probable cause existed is a legal question for the trial judge to decide. If the officer and the arrestee disagree about the facts of the arrest, the trial judge must advise the jury on what facts would constitute probable cause if proved. "After that, the jury must determine if the evidence supports the necessary factual findings." Levin v. United Airlines, Inc., 158 Cal. App. 4th 1002, 1018–19; Levin v. United Airlines, Inc., 158 Cal. App. 4th 1002, 1018–19; Levin v. (2008).

In general, if the officer has probable cause to conclude that the arrest was lawful—even if the arrest was later found to be unlawful—the officer is not responsible for false arrest under California law, as it is under the Fourth Amendment. 847 of the California Penal Code (b). "The presence of probable cause is required, but not sufficient, to determine the legality of an arrest." City of Long Beach v. George, 973 F.2d 706, 710 (9th Cir. 1992). An arrest for such offenses may be in violation of California's penal code, which limits when officers may make arrests.

Arrests for such misdemeanors and infractions may be fraudulent

In California, an arrest based on probable cause may be legal under the Fourth Amendment, but it is illegal under state law, which restricts an officer's discretion in deciding whether or not to make a custodial arrest. In general, unless a person fails to show a driver's license or another form of identification and signs a written promise to appear contained in a notice to appear (a "ticket"), an officer does not make a custodial arrest for certain misdemeanors and infractions (lesser offenses than a misdemeanor). If a person does not have a driver's license or other forms of identification, the officer can ask them to place a thumbprint on the summons. "The arrestee can only be taken into custody if he or she refuses to sign a written promise, has no acceptable identification, or refuses to include a thumbprint or fingerprint." 853.5 of the California Penal Code (a).

Other limits on convictions for misdemeanors

There are several exceptions to the rule that a law enforcement officer cannot arrest anyone for a misdemeanor committed outside of the officer's presence. An officer can, for example, make a warrantless misdemeanor custodial arrest of someone for driving while intoxicated or assaulting or battery on a family member.

An officer cannot make a warrantless arrest for a stale misdemeanor, which happens when an adult commits a misdemeanor in the officer's presence, but the officer fails to arrest the adult within a reasonable period after the misdemeanor is committed. If the officer sees the individual again, he does not arrest her, but he may detain her from obtaining information (such as her name, date of birth, and so on) to obtain an arrest warrant.

There are three situations in which an officer can make a lawful custodial arrest without a warrant.

In general, a California law enforcement officer can only make a lawful custodial, warrantless arrest of a person in three circumstances:

  • when the officer has reasonable grounds to believe the person being arrested committed a crime (felony or misdemeanor) while in his or her presence

  • when the arrestee has committed a crime while not in the presence of the officer

  • when the officer has reasonable grounds to suspect the person being arrested has committed a crime, regardless of whether the felony has been committed." 836 of the California Penal Code

  • Once in jail, you have the right to make phone calls and have a judge determine whether you have probable cause

  • An officer must authorize an arrested adult to make at least three completed phone calls after being booked and within three hours of being arrested. 851.5 of the California Penal Code. An officer must inform an arrested juvenile of his or her right to make at least two phone calls after being booked and no less than one hour after being taken into custody. 627 Cal. Welf. & Instit. Code (b).

  • It is a crime for an officer to deny an accused person the right to make a phone call. 851.5 of the California Penal Code (f). Section 1983 can make such an officer civilly liable.

  • People who are arrested and detained without a warrant have the right to a probable cause finding from a judge within 48 hours. McLaughlin v. Riverside County, 500 U.S. 44, 55–58 (1991).

Penal Code 236 PC Violation

Penal Code 236 PC is referred to as a "wobbler." This means that depending on the circumstances of the situation, if you used physical abuse and your criminal records, you may be charged with a felony or a misdemeanor.

For the purposes of California's Three Strikes Law, a conviction for Penal Code 236 PC does not constitute a "strike." A felony, on the other hand, can carry a sentence of up to three years in state prison, while a misdemeanor can carry a sentence of up to one year in county jail. Furthermore, a conviction under Penal Code 236 PC may have significant social consequences. It may have an effect on your legal status, job prospects, and professional licenses, among other things.

Restrained Anyone Intentionally and Illegally

False imprisonment is when someone's personal liberty is violated. This offense happens when you obstruct someone's ability to move freely and willingly. If you did this on purpose, you would be found to have behaved knowingly. It would not be deemed "intentional" to detain someone through mistake or by incompetence.

To be guilty of false imprisonment, you do not have to physically restrain or hold another person, contrary to common belief. If you imprisoned anyone by locking them in a bed, you might be charged with false imprisonment. You may also face charges if you threatened others with a deadly weapon to deter them from moving freely. It doesn't matter what you do as long as you don't obstruct their ability or freedom to travel.

Unable to move freely

You must have prohibited another person from traveling freely in order to be guilty of false imprisonment. One of two things can cause this:

  • You prohibit anyone from exercising their right to free will and leaving a specific venue

  • You transfer anyone without their permission to a specific location on purpose

Consent refers to a person's willingness to do something while fully comprehending the implications of their decisions. If consent is obtained by coercion, deception, or duress, it is not valid. Children also lack the ability to give informed and lawful consent. This is due to the fact that they can not completely comprehend a situation.

False Imprisonment is a Wobbler

In California, false imprisonment is a wobbler, which means it can be punished as a misdemeanor or a felony. The severity of your charge will be determined by a number of mitigating and aggravating factors, including:

  • If you've ever been charged with or convicted of false imprisonment,

  • Describe your criminal records.

  • Whether or not the supposed victim was injured or harmed

  • Whether or not force or intimidation was used in the commission of the crime

When false imprisonment is a misdemeanor.

If you have no previous convictions and did not use coercion or intimidation, false imprisonment can be charged as a misdemeanor. False imprisonment as a misdemeanor will result in the following penalties:

  • A maximum sentence of 12 months in a Los Angeles County jail is possible

  • Probation

  • Penalties

When false imprisonment is a felony.

Under Penal Code 237 PC, false imprisonment can be prosecuted as a crime if:

  • "Violence, threat, fraud, or deception" helped the crime. False imprisonment as a felony has serious consequences.

  • The victim was a senior citizen or a disabled individual.

  • False imprisonment is a felony that carries a sentence of 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in a California state jail. Fines, probation, community service, and even court-ordered therapy are also possible punishments.

Penal Code 236 PC has a wide range of legal defenses. An experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer will examine the facts of your case to see what defenses are available. They will then devise a legal plan that will help you achieve the best possible result in your case. Among the most common defenses are:

  • As previously said, it is not false imprisonment if the suspected victim consented to the restraint, incarceration, or confinement.

  • Insufficient Evidence to Prove Intent: Proving what an individual was thinking is challenging. That is why prosecutors frequently use comments you make to the police or to others against you. However, if they don't have that information, they'll have to get creative and use collateral evidence against you. A skilled Criminal Defense Attorney will find flaws in the facts and compel the prosecution to prove their case according to the law's expectations. A Criminal Defense Attorney will also get a Penal Code 236 PC charge dismissed due to a lack of proof by applying this pressure.

  • Intoxication: If you were under the influence of alcohol or narcotics at the time of the incident, you might not have been behaving "intentionally" as described by the statute. As a result, intoxication can be used as a legal defense to a breach of Penal Code 236 PC. However, you should consult with a Criminal Defense Attorney because this defense can expose you to additional legal liabilities.

When a violent situation happens, it is normal for the police and prosecutors to look for someone to blame. Even if you were the good guy, you might find yourself charged with Penal Code 236 PC. To have the charge dismissed, a Criminal Defense Attorney may show evidence that you used physical force in a fair and justified manner.

What is False Imprisonment or Resisting Arrest?

California's general rule against false imprisonment, Penal Code 210.5 PC, is applied more broadly (Penal Code 236 PC). It only happens in two circumstances.

To begin, Penal Code 210.5 PC refers to circumstances in which you restrain, confine, or detain another person in order to avoid being arrested. Second, it refers to cases in which you use another person as a human shield, and their safety is jeopardized as a result of your actions.

Penal Code 210.5 PC Violation

The penalty for false imprisonment of a hostage (Penal Code 210.5 PC) is more severe than that for false imprisonment in general. To begin with, it is an automatic felony. Second, a conviction under Penal Code 210.5 PC will result in a sentence of 3 to 8 years in county jail. Furthermore, the circumstances surrounding your crime can aggravate charges and penalties. If the victim is killed during the false arrest, you may face charges of battery, abduction, and even murder. If the victim is seriously hurt, the conviction under Penal Code 210.5 PC could be subject to California's great bodily injury enhancement. This enhancement adds an additional 3-6 years in state prison to the original term for violating Penal Code 210.5 PC.

Penal Code 210.5 PC (Defenses)

A wide variety of legal protections are required to fight a charge under Penal Code 210.5 PC. However, the applicability of a particular defense is highly dependent on the facts of the case. As a result, having an experienced Criminal Defense Attorney evaluate the relevant details of your case is critical. They will then present a comprehensive legal plan that addresses all potential defenses. The following are some general defenses to Penal Code 210.5 PC:

  • If the victim consented to the detention, incarceration, or restraint, you could not be found guilty of False Imprisonment of a Hostage.

  • Absence of an Immediate Danger of Detention: Penal Code 210.5 PC only applies in cases where an arrest is imminent. You cannot be accused of Penal Code 210.5 PC if there is no imminent risk of detention.

  • Lack of an Increased Risk of Harm to the Victim: This is a reasonable defense to use when you try to harm anyone but don't have the means to do so.

  • Duress: If someone pressures you to falsely imprison someone so that they can avoid capture under the threat of death or great bodily harm, you might have a legal defense of duress under Penal Code 210.5 PC.

Kidnapping and False Imprisonment

The laws of false imprisonment and kidnapping in California are related. False imprisonment occurs when someone is detained, restrained, or confined without their consent. Power or fear may be used to achieve all three of these processes. Kidnapping, on the other hand, entails the use of intimidation or terror to drive another individual a significant distance. As a result, abduction is inherently associated with false imprisonment. You can't abduct anyone without also falsely imprisoning them. As a result, if you are charged with kidnapping, you should be aware that you may also be charged with false imprisonment.

Cases That Are Related:

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Area With A Boundary

A physical barrier (such as a locked door), the use of physical force to restrain, the refusal to release, or invalid use of legal authority are all examples of restraint. Only if freedom of movement is restricted in all directions does a region become bounded. The field is not bounded if there is a rational means of escaping it. The area is bounded, however, if the means of escaping would put the detainee in danger of physical damage. The region would also be bounded if the detainee's family was threatened with harm if the detainee left.

False Imprisonment Threats

Acts of restraint may also include threats of immediate physical force. False imprisonment does not require merely threatening to imprison. When deciding if a threat constitutes false imprisonment, the court would typically consider whether the complainant had a reasonable fear of harm.

Use of Legal Authority That Isn't Legitimate

The detention or arrest of a person without a warrant, with an unlawful warrant, or with an unlawfully executed warrant is an example of invalid use of legal authority. The length of time spent in custody is irrelevant as long as the individual is deprived of his liberty. Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network, 519 U.S. 357, is an example (1997)

The privilege of the shopkeeper

The shopkeeper's privilege defense is one of the affirmative defenses to the false imprisonment tort. In this case, the plaintiff was arrested by a defendant's store owner because the defendant suspected the plaintiff of stealing or trying to steal an object from the defendant. The shopkeeper's privilege doctrine states that in this case, a shopkeeper defendant who reasonably suspects the plaintiff has stolen or is attempting to steal something from the defendant shopkeeper can detain the plaintiff for a reasonable period of time to investigate.

False Imprisonment Offshoots

The torts of "malicious prosecution" and "abuse of process" are two other torts that come under false imprisonment.

The complainant must show three points to prove malicious prosecution:

  • The defendant acted with malice against the plaintiff and acted without probable cause.

  • The case would not have gone forward if it hadn't been for the defendant's conduct.

  • The complainant was not involved in the supposed wrongdoing.

The plaintiff must show that the defendant used the legal system to extort, threaten, or annoy the plaintiff in order to establish an abuse of process tort.

Workplace Incident

What to do when the false imprisonment happens at work:

Is it possible for my employer to detain me if I am accused of stealing?

False imprisonment does not occur if your employer has a legal reason to confine you, such as during a fraud investigation. However, even in that case, your employer can legally detain you while conducting a legitimate investigation. What is considered "fair" is decided on a case-by-case basis, based on the facts of the situation. For example, an employer who detains an employee for five hours because he or she suspects the employee of stealing a pack of gum is unlikely to be fair.

What if I wasn't imprisoned for a long time?

There is no set amount of time that an employee must be kept until it is considered false imprisonment by the employer. In at least one instance, a court determined that false imprisonment existed even though the detention was only for fifteen minutes. The longer you are imprisoned, though, the less fair the imprisonment becomes.

How do I file a False Imprisonment claim after a Workplace Incident?

False imprisonment charges must be brought before a judge. But keep in mind that, even though your condition sounds similar to the false imprisonment case mentioned above, you can only file a lawsuit if you have suffered "damages." Health costs and earnings suffered from losing work time due to false imprisonment are examples of damages. You may also be entitled to compensation for emotional distress or psychological care as a result of the incident.

The amount of "damages" you owe will normally dictate which court you can sue in. Small Claims Court could be the best option for smaller cases. You don't need to hire a Criminal Defense Lawyer in a Small Claims court (in fact, lawyers aren't even allowed). You can file in Superior Court if your lawsuit is worth more than $7,500.

Small Claims Court claims are normally resolved quicker than Superior Court claims. A hearing in Small Claims Court is usually held within 30 to 70 days of the lawsuit being made. For more details, go to the California Courts Self-Help Center. A Small Claims Legal Advisor's Office will also assist you with your lawsuit in several counties.

If you employ a Criminal Defense Lawyer to represent you in a Superior Court case, you can have a much easier time. Unfortunately, unless you have a fairly big case, finding a Criminal Defense Lawyer to represent you can be difficult. If you don't know where to start looking for a Criminal Defense Lawyer, contact the local Bar Association and request a referral. The Superior Court Clerk can also answer several questions about filing in court.

Could I file a Workers' Compensation lawsuit if my false imprisonment caused me stress?

Most likely not. Workers' compensation does not protect false imprisonment cases, so you will have to file a lawsuit in order to be compensated for an injury caused by your employer's false imprisonment.

Find A Criminal Lawyer in Los Angeles offers is a California Bar Association Certified Lawyer Referral Service that can refer you to a Criminal Defense Attorney best fit to handle their case. A Criminal Defense Lawyer will be able to guide you through the complicated process of filing a Criminal Lawsuit. You may contact us through our 24/7 Live Chat (or complete our case details submission form) for a free initial consultation.


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