Defenses to False Imprisonment
What is False Imprisonment?
False imprisonment occurs when one person detains another without the person’s consent and without any authorization or justification by law. False imprisonment can result in both criminal charges and civil liability under tort laws. If excessive or unauthorized force is used in the detention, the false imprisonment charge may be elevated from a misdemeanor to a felony.
In order to prove false imprisonment, it is usually necessary to prove the following elements:
- the actor confined the victim intentionally, either through words or acts
- the victim was conscious of the detention or confinement (i.e., they were not asleep or unconscious)
- the victim never consented to such confinement, and
- the confinement was not subject to any privileges or justifications under law
False imprisonment incidents are usually tied to other offenses, such as false arrest or kidnapping. Some states consider false imprisonment to be kidnapping if the confinement occurs in secret.
Are there any Defenses to False Imprisonment?
False imprisonment can only occur if all of the above elements are satisfied. Therefore, defenses to false imprisonment usually involve one or more of the elements of proof. For example, if the victim voluntarily consents to the detention, then it is considered a defense to the charges.
Other defenses to false imprisonment include:
- Valid Arrest: A claim of false arrest is completely invalidated if the detainment was made according to principles of a valid arrest. In some circumstances an ordinary person can make a citizen’s arrest
- “Merchant’s Privilege”: Shopkeepers may lawfully detain patrons suspected of shoplifting. The store owner or employee must have probable cause for the restraint. They must also witness the shoplifting in progress, continuously observe the shoplifter and their failure to pay for the retail, and must apprehend the suspect outside the premises
- Restraint of Minor: Some states allow a person to restrain a person under the age of seventeen, subject to many requirements, such as obtaining the parent’s consent. Parents may also have authority to detain their own child if it does not endanger the child. The rights of minors are heavily protected by laws
- Acts under the Direction of a Superior Officer: If the person who made the arrest was acting according to instructions from a superior officer, it does NOT constitute a defense. However, the superior’s instructions may be used as a basis for reducing damages awards
Thus, there are many instances in which a person may lawfully detain another person. However, a person should not attempt to restrain a person’s liberty unless they exercise reasonable judgment in doing so.
Do I Need a Lawyer for False Imprisonment?
If you are facing false imprisonment charges, you may wish to consult with a lawyer, as there may be a number of defenses available for your justification. False imprisonment charges are serious and are sometimes classified as felonies depending on the facts of the incident. Be sure to inform your attorney of any circumstances that may support a defense in your favor.
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Last Modified: 03-14-2011 02:40 PM PDT
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