False imprisonment occurs when an individual is restrained against their will without a legal justification. Although an individual may picture a jail cell when they think of false imprisonment, it typically does not involve law enforcement or jail cells, but an unauthorized detention of one individual by another.
The false portion of the term false imprisonment means without authority or unlawful. The term imprisonment means restraining an individual without their consent and depriving them of their freedom of movement.
Any individual may be held liable for civil false imprisonment of another individual if the following occurs:
- 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; and
- The victim suffers harm, which may be:
- financial; or
Any individual is capable of perpetrating civil false imprisonment of another individual. It is important to note that a perpetrator or false imprisonment can also be a law enforcement officer who is acting outside of their authority.
In order to be successful with a false imprisonment claim, an individual is not required to provide proof of the use of physical force by the perpetrator. An implied threat of force may be sufficient to prove the intent of the perpetrator.
An example of this may be if a perpetrator states that they will hurt the victim if the victim attempts to leave. A victim must be aware of their confinement.
For example, if a victim is asleep when they were falsely imprisoned and are not aware of their imprisonment, the perpetrator will not likely be found liable. In certain states, the victim cannot have a reasonable means of escape in order to prove false imprisonment.
It is important to note that, in some cases, a failure to act may form the basis for a false imprisonment claim. For example, if an individual fails to unlock a door when an individual is trapped in a space, it may be considered false imprisonment.
Examples of situations constituting false imprisonment may include, but are not limited to:
- An individual gets into an argument with their spouse and wants to leave their residence, but their spouse prevents them from leaving;
- One individual erects some kind of barricade so that another individual cannot leave their house or other space;
- One individual prevents another person from exiting a commercial space when they wish to leave;
- One individual blocks another’s car so they cannot exit a parking lot; or
- An individual ties another individual to a chair. Or, even grabbing an individual’s arm to prevent them from leaving their presence can be false imprisonment.
In the context of criminal law, false imprisonment, or unlawful restraint, is related closely to the criminal offense of kidnapping. Both of these offenses involve the unlawful restraint of another, typically by force or the threat of force.
The offense of kidnapping, however, requires proof of an additional element, which is moving the victim from one place to another, even if it is a short distance. In certain states, the perpetrator must engage in the offense with the intent to:
- Demand ransom to release the victim;
- Use the victim as a shield or a hostage;
- Commit another crime;
- Interfere with political or government functions; or
- Terrorize or injury the victim or another individual.
Arrests may be unlawful when a law enforcement officer does not have a warrant or probable cause to make the arrest. An arresting law enforcement officer who does not take the arrested individual before a magistrate or a court within a reasonable time may also be liable for false imprisonment.
Law enforcement officers who perpetrate false imprisonment may be held civilly liable for damages. Additionally, the individual who was arrested may be required to seek a writ of habeas corpus in order to be released from their unlawful detention.