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Defenses to False Imprisonment

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What Is False Imprisonment?

False imprisonment occurs when one person detains another person without consent and without any legal authorization or justification. False imprisonment can result in both criminal charges and civil liability under tort laws. Additionally, if excessive or unauthorized force is used in the detention, the false imprisonment charge may be charged as a felony.

How Is False Imprisonment Proven?

It may vary from state to state, but generally, false imprisonment requires the victim to be:

  • Intentionally confined, either through words or acts
  • Conscious of the detention or confinement
  • Not consenting to such confinement

Moreover, 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.

Are There Any Defenses to False Imprisonment?

Most 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 possible no false imprisonment occurred.

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. Generally, 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.
  • 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, but 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.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you believe you were falsely arrested or are facing false imprisonment charges, you may wish to consult with a personal injury or criminal defense lawyer. False imprisonment charges can be serious, and even if criminal charges are not pursued, you may still be civilly liable. An attorney will be able to explain any available defenses and help protect your rights.

Photo of page author Matthew Izzi

, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 08-28-2014 02:56 PM PDT

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