When asking what false imprisonment is, many people think of a prison or jail cell. However, false imprisonment may well not involve jail cells or police authorities. False imprisonment is defined as the unauthorized detention of one person by another. People also think of criminal activity, and false imprisonment is a criminal offense. But it can also be a civil wrong that can lead to liability for damages on the part of the perpetrator.

In the phrase “false imprisonment,” the word “false” means “unlawful” or “without authority.” The word “imprisonment” means “restraining a person without their consent” and depriving them of their freedom of movement.

Any person can be liable for the civil false imprisonment of another if the following takes place:

  • The perpetrator says words or commits any acts with the intent to restrain their victim;
  • The perpetrator confines their victim for some period of time;
  • The victim is aware that they are being restrained or confined;
  • The victim suffers harm, which may be physical, financial or emotional.

Any person can perpetrate civil false imprisonment of another; the perpetrator can also be a member of law enforcement who acts outside of their authority.

Success with a false imprisonment claim does not require proof of the use of physical force by the perpetrator. An implied threat of force can be enough to prove the perpetrator’s intent. An example of a threat of force can be the perpetrator stating that they would hurt the victim if they attempted to leave.

The victim needs to be aware of their confinement. So, for example, if a victim is asleep when they are falsely imprisoned and unaware of their imprisonment, the perpetrator likely would not be found liable for false imprisonment.

In some states, the victim cannot have a reasonable means of escape in order for false imprisonment to occur. Also, a failure to act in certain circumstances can also form the basis for false imprisonment. For example, if a person were to fail to unlock a door if a person is trapped in a space behind it, this could constitute false imprisonment.

Some examples of false imprisonment are as follows:

  • A person gets into an argument with their spouse and wants to leave their residence, but their spouse prevents them from leaving;
  • One person erects some kind of barricade so that another person cannot leave their house or other space;
  • One person prevents another person from exiting a commercial space when they wish to leave;
  • One person blocks another’s car so they cannot exit a parking lot;
  • A person ties another person to a chair. Or, even grabbing a person’s arm to prevent them from leaving their presence can be false imprisonment.

As a criminal offense, false imprisonment, or unlawful restraint, is closely related to the crime of kidnapping. Both crimes involve the unlawful restraint of another, usually using force or the threat of force. Kidnapping, however, also requires proof of one additional element. This additional element is moving the victim from one place to another, even if the distance is short.

In some states, the person who restrains another must do it with the intent to demand ransom to release the victim, use the victim as a hostage or shield, commit another crime, interfere with political or government functions, or terrorize or hurt the victim or another person.

An arrest is unlawful when the police officer who makes the arrest does not have either a warrant or probable cause to make the arrest. An arresting officer who does not take an arrested person before a court or magistrate within a reasonable time can also be liable for false imprisonment. A law enforcement officer who perpetrates false imprisonment can be civilly liable for damages for false imprisonment. In addition, the person arrested may have to seek a writ of habeas corpus in order to be released from their unlawful detention.

For example, in one reported case in Colorado, a police officer approached a woman who was sitting in her car. The officer was investigating the fact that her dog had been loose while not on a leash. The officer ordered the woman to show him her driver’s license and when she refused, the officer arrested her.

The officer was found liable for false imprisonment, because there is no law in Colorado that requires a person to show a police officer their driver’s license. So, the woman had been arrested without probable cause. This was true even though the woman was later convicted of a violation of the local dog leash ordinance.

What Is False Imprisonment of a Minor?

False imprisonment of a minor occurs when the victim is younger than the age of majority, which is 18 years old in most states. False imprisonment of a minor is a serious crime and can be punished more severely than false imprisonment of an adult. False imprisonment of a minor generally does not occur if the perpetrator is related to the child and acted with the consent of the child’s parents.

What Is False Imprisonment in the Workplace?

False imprisonment in the workplace occurs when a supervisor or manager prevents a worker from leaving the workplace and otherwise commits the acts that constitute false imprisonment in a workplace. For example, if an employer uses the threat of force to detain a worker in the workplace against their will, it may be considered false imprisonment in the workplace.

Most instances of false imprisonment in the workplace involve a supervisor questioning a worker about a dispute. But employers need to be very careful when they detain a worker for whatever reason, especially if the detention is not a normal part of the worker’s routine.

While a supervisor might have cause to keep a worker in their place of employment for questioning because of an incident of some kind, an employer would probably be well advised to ask an employee to stay and talk rather than forcibly detaining them.

What Are Some Legal Remedies for False Imprisonment?

The standard legal remedy for civil false imprisonment is typically an award of money damages to compensate the victim for any injuries or suffering they experienced due to the confinement.

  • Medical Bills: If the victim was injured physically and required medical treatment, damages would cover the costs incurred for medical treatments;
  • Lost Income: If the victim suffers a loss of income and future income, damages should compensate for that. In addition, if the evidence shows that the victim has suffered a loss of earning capacity, then that would be compensated for in an award of money damages;
  • Emotional Distress: This could include any significant emotional response to the incident, such as shame and humiliation;
  • Pain and Suffering: This would be the psychological component of physical injury;
  • Lost Business or Lost Employment Opportunities; If a victim earns a living by operating a business and loses business because of injury caused by a false imprisonment, they could seek damages to compensate for that loss.

If the perpetrator’s conduct in effecting the imprisonment showed particular maliciousness, a jury might also award punitive damages in a false imprisonment case.

A victim might also report their imprisonment to the police and this could result in a criminal charge in addition to the civil liability that the perpetrator has incurred. The exact punishment for conviction of false imprisonment would depend on the law in the state where the person committed the crime but would probably include:

  • Imprisonment: The perpetrator can face a jail or lengthy prison sentence. Misdemeanor convictions could be punished by up to a year in jail. Conviction of felony false imprisonment would be more serious, especially if violence, the threat of violence, or a weapon were involved. The punishment might also be more severe if the victim was a child. Conviction of felony false imprisonment can lead to up to 20 years in prison or more;
  • Fines: A fine can also be imposed as punishment for false imprisonment;
  • Probation: Probation is also a possible punishment if a person is convicted of false imprisonment. Probation usually lasts for at least 12 months, but two or three-year sentences are possible.
    • A person on probation must comply with specific conditions or risk being sent to jail or prison, being ordered to pay additional fines, or other penalties. One of the conditions of probation is the requirement to meet regularly with a probation officer. A person’s freedom of movement might also be limited, e.g. a person may not be allowed to leave the state they live in without the consent of their probation officer.

There are a number of defenses to a charge of criminal false imprisonment. These can include:

  • Self-defense: A perpetrator might claim that they confined the victim in order to avoid being attacked by the victim;
  • Coercion: A perpetrator might claim that they were forced to confine the victim by another person who threatened to harm them if they did not;
  • Lack of Intent: The perpetrator might claim that the imprisonment was not intentional, but somehow accidental. This can be a defense because false imprisonment requires that the perpetrator have an intent to detain the victim.

Of course, a defendant in a criminal case would have to produce evidence to support any claimed defenses.

Do I Need a Lawyer If I Have a False Imprisonment Claim?

False imprisonment can often occur in normal, everyday situations, even in the workplace, for example. A person can also be falsely imprisoned by a law enforcement official. If you have experienced injury or loss because you were falsely imprisoned, you may be able to file a lawsuit for damages in a civil court of law.

You would want to hire an experienced personal injury lawyer to help guide you through the process of filing a lawsuit. Your attorney can be on hand to answer questions and help you prepare the necessary documents and evidence to establish your claim.

If you have been charged with criminal false imprisonment, you want to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney. Your attorney can analyze the evidence and advise you as to how best to defend against the charges.

You would also want to contact a criminal defense attorney if you believe you have been illegally detained by law enforcement and need to seek a writ of habeas corpus in order to be released from detention.