California law makes it illegal to restrain, detain or confine someone without their consent. Doing so is the crime of “false imprisonment.”

Neither force nor violence is necessary for an act to be considered false imprisonment. A person can be found guilty of false imprisonment for something as simple as a snap reaction in the heat of the moment. For example, if in a heated argument, a husband grabs his spouse by the arm and prevents them from leaving the room.

Depending on the facts of the case and the criminal history of the defendant, false imprisonment can be charged in combination with other crimes and is punishable by up to three years in county jail.

If you or someone you know has been accused of false imprisonment, it’s important to speak with a skilled Los Angeles criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

What is ‘False Imprisonment?’

When a criminal case makes it to a courtroom, the prosecution will attempt to convince a jury that certain facts of the case are true. These facts are known as the “elements of the crime.” If the jury believes that the elements of the crime are true, they can convict the defendant.

False imprisonment has five elements that all must be proven in order to convict someone.

  1. The defendant intentionally detained, restrained or confined someone.
  2. This forced the victim to stay somewhere for an appreciable time, however short.
  3. The victim did not consent.
  4. The victim was actually harmed.
  5. The defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing this harm.

These elements can make it sound as though just about anything can qualify as false imprisonment. However, there are a number of situations in which an individual has the right to detain, restrain or confine someone else.

  • Legal authority to restrain – Individuals who are given the legal authority to restrain other people, such as law enforcement officers, cannot be found guilty of false imprisonment if their actions were reasonable and in the line of duty.
  • Self defense – You have the right to self defense in California, and if someone’s actions endanger you or others, you are within your rights to restrain or confine them to preserve your own safety.
  • Shopkeeper’s privilege – Store owners have the right to detain others that they have probable cause to suspect of shoplifting. This is to give time to the store owner to investigate the case.
  • Parental rights – Parents have the right to use detention methods like “grounding” and “timeouts” to discipline their children, as long as the children don’t sustain injuries or undue suffering.

Penalties for false imprisonment charges

False imprisonment is a “wobbler” under California law, which means that it can be charged either as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the facts of the case.

Misdemeanor false imprisonment applies in cases where the defendant did not use “violence, menace, fraud, or deceit.” Misdemeanor false imprisonment is punishable by up to a year in county jail and fines of up to $1,000.

Felony false imprisonment applies in cases where the defendant is found to have used violence, menace, fraud or deceit. Felony false imprisonment is punishable by imprisonment in county jail, with a term of 16 months, two years or three years.

Victims can also sue in civil court for restitution in false imprisonment cases.

Defenses against false imprisonment cases

As we mentioned above, in order to convict someone for false imprisonment, a prosecutor must prove that all five “elements of the crime” in false imprisonment were true.

Your criminal defense attorney will carefully and thoroughly review the evidence of your case with you and build your defense. It might be that the defendant acted in self defense, accidentally confined someone or never actually harmed the so-called victim. In all three of those situations, the defendant cannot be convicted of false imprisonment.

No matter what the details of your case are, your attorney will work with you to create a defense to defend your freedom and fight to allow you to get back to your life.

Robert M. Helfend is a SuperLawyers and National Trial Lawyers Top 100 recognized defense attorney who has practiced in the Los Angeles area since 1984. Call today for a free case evaluation – 800-834-6434.