False imprisonment is the act of detaining another person without that person’s consent or without legal authority to detain them. False imprisonment is both a crime and a civil tort meaning the victim of false imprisonment may be able to sue for civil damages resulting from the detention.
The victim must show the following in order to prove a claim of false imprisonment:
- They did not consent to the detainment;
- There was no legal authority to detain the person;
- The accused intended to restrain the person’s freedom of movement;
- They were under some sort of duress caused by the accused that prevented their free movement; and
- They must either have known of their detention or if it was unknown to the victim at the time of detention, the victim was harmed by the detention.
Methods of causing detention include:
- Physical barriers leaving no escape for the person detained;
- Using physical force to detain the person;
- Fraud or deceiving the person into being detained; and/or
- Threats of violence to the person being detained.
Showing that the victim cannot prove one of the elements is one way to defend against a claim or charge of false imprisonment. For example, the victim consented to the detention or the accused had legal authority to detain them.
Officers following orders of a superior officer may not be a complete defense but such an excuse may decrease the damages awarded to the victim.
- Legal Arrest: The accused, such as a police officer, may have had legal authority like a warrant or probable cause to confine the person. In some situations, a civilian may make a “citizen’s arrest.”
- Shopkeeper’s Privilege: Store-owners or agents of a store-owner, like a security guard, may use a reasonable amount of force to detain a suspected thief for a reasonable amount of time to investigate the theft or an attempted theft. The store-owner must have a reasonable belief that the suspect stole or was attempting to steal their property before detaining the person.
- Restraining a Minor: If the accused has the permission of the parent or legal guardian of the confined minor and the restraint is reasonable the accused may have such a defense. Parents may also use reasonable restraint against their minor child as long as such actions do not endanger the child. A minor is usually defined as a person under the age of seventeen. However, this defense is not available in all states.
In criminal court, a false imprisonment conviction may result in a large fine and the possibility of a jail sentence. Depending on the nature of the imprisonment, such a crime may be a felony.
In civil court, a finding of fault may result in paying a substantial amount of money to the victim. The accused could be prosecuted criminally and sued civilly for the same act of false imprisonment.
Other similar legal crimes and torts include kidnapping, false arrest, abuse of process, malicious prosecution, and criminal confinement. Criminal confinement of a child may include actions that endanger the child like leaving them in a locked car alone.
While malicious prosecution may apply to government agents who violate the law in attempting to detain or prosecute a person. False arrest can apply to persons who believed they had authority or good cause to detain a person but discover later that such authority did not exist.
A personal injury lawyer can help a victim of false imprisonment understand their rights and seek civil damages for any injury associated with the false imprisonment. Personal injury lawyers can also assist in defending against claims of false imprisonment on behalf of the accused. A criminal lawyer can help explain your rights, the criminal process, and any defenses against a charge of false imprisonment by the government.