Most individuals think of a jail cell or a prison when they think of false imprisonment. False imprisonment, however, often does not involve a jail cell or law enforcement authorities.
False imprisonment is the unauthorized detention of one individual by another individual. Many individuals also think of criminal activity as false imprisonment is a criminal offense.
False imprisonment, however, can also be a civil wrong that may lead to liability for damages on the part of a perpetrator. In the phrase false imprisonment, the word false means without authority or unlawful.
The term imprisonment means restraining an individual without their consent and depriving the individual of their freedom of movement. Generally, false imprisonment may be done with words of physical acts.
In order to convict a defendant of false imprisonment, the prosecution will be required to prove:
- The person used words or acts to confine the victim;
- The victim was confined;
- The victim knew they were confined; and
- The confinement was unlawful.
Any individual may be held liable for civil false imprisonment of another individual if the following takes place:
- The perpetrator says words or commits any acts with the intent to restrain the victim;
- The perpetrator confines the victim for a period of time;
- The victim is aware that they are being confined or restrained;
- The victim suffers harm, which may be:
- financial, or
Any individual can perpetrate civil false imprisonment of another individual. In addition, the perpetrator may also be a member of law enforcement who acts outside of their authority.
Successfully prevailing in a false imprisonment claim does not require proof of the use of physical force by the perpetrator. An implied threat of force may be enough to show the intent of the perpetrator.
One example of a threat of force is if a perpetrator states that they would harm the victim if the perpetrator attempted to leave. For the offense to be false imprisonment, the victim must be aware of their confinement.
For example, if the victim is asleep when they were falsely imprisoned and were unaware of the imprisonment, the perpetrator will most likely not be found liable for false imprisonment. In certain states, in order for false imprisonment to occur, the victim cannot have a reasonable means of escape.
In certain cases, a failure to act may also form the basis for false imprisonment. For example, if an individual were to fail to unlock a door if another individual was trapped in a space behind it, this may constitute false imprisonment.
Examples of false imprisonment include:
- An individual gets into an argument with their spouse and tries to leave the residence but their spouse prevents them from doing so;
- One individual creates some type of barricade so that another individual cannot leave their house or other space;
- One individual prevents another individual from exiting a commercial space when they wish to leave;
- One individual blocks another individual’s car so they are not able to exit a parking lot;
- An individual ties another individual to a chair. Even grabbing an individual’s arm to prevent them from leaving may be considered false imprisonment.
False imprisonment, or unlawful restraint, as a criminal offense, is closely related to the crime of kidnapping. Both of those offenses involve the unlawful restraining of another individual, typically using force or the threat of force.
However, kidnapping also requires proof of an additional element, which is moving the victim from one place to another, even if the distance is short. In certain states, the individual who restrains another individual must do so with the intent to:
- Demand ransom to release the victim;
- Use the victim as a hostage or as a shield;
- Commit another crime;
- Interfere with political or government functions; or
- Terrorize or hurt the victim or another individual.
An arrest may be unlawful when the law enforcement officer who makes the arrest either does not have a warrant or probable cause to make the arrest. An arresting officer who does not take the arrested individual before a court or magistrate within a reasonable amount of time may also be liable for false imprisonment.
A law enforcement officer who perpetrates false imprisonment may be civilly liable for damages for false imprisonment. In addition, the individual who is arrested may have to seek a writ of habeas corpus in order to be released from their unlawful detention.
For example, in one case in Colorado, a law enforcement officer approached a woman who was sitting in her car. The officer was investigating the fact that her dog had been loose and not on a leash.
The police officer ordered the woman to show her driver’s license and when she refused, the officer arrested her. The officer was found liable for false imprisonment because there is no law in Colorado that requires an individual to show a police officer their driver’s license.
So, in this case, the woman had been arrested without probable cause. This was true even though the woman was later convicted of a violation of the local dog leash ordinance.