Texas Unlawful Restraint Law

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 What Is Unlawful Restraint in Texas?

The criminal charge of unlawful restraint in Texas is defined under Section 20.02 of the Texas Penal Code. It occurs when a person intentionally or knowingly restrains another person, essentially restricting their movements or confining them without their consent, with the means to prevent their liberation.

How Is “Without Consent” Defined?

In the context of unlawful restraint, “without consent” is a critical element. To put it simply, it means the person being restrained has not willingly agreed to their freedom of movement being limited or restricted. Consent must be given freely, knowingly, and competently.

Physical force is the most explicit example of “without consent.” For instance, if John physically holds Jane in a room and prevents her from leaving, even though she has clearly communicated her desire to exit, this would qualify as unlawful restraint without consent.

Threats and intimidation can also negate consent. For example, if Alex tells Robert that he will harm him or his family if he tries to leave the room, and Robert stays in the room out of fear, this could be considered unlawful restraint.

Deception is another means of restraining someone without their consent. For example, if Lisa, a caregiver, tells her elderly patient, Mrs. Smith, that she needs to stay in her room for a medical test when no such test has been ordered, Lisa could be unlawfully restraining Mrs. Smith through deception.

Restraining Those Incapable of Giving Consent

Individuals legally unable to consent include minors below a certain age, the elderly in certain situations, and individuals with certain disabilities. The presumption is that these individuals may lack the ability to understand the situation fully or may be easily manipulated or coerced.

For instance, if a babysitter confines a child under the age of 14 in a room and refuses to let them out, even though the child wants to leave, this could be considered unlawful restraint. The child is too young to give consent to be confined in such a manner legally.

In the case of an elderly person, if a caregiver locks an elderly person in a room against their will, claiming it’s for their own safety but without any medical or safety reason, this could also be considered unlawful restraint. The elderly person may not have the capacity to comprehend or resist the situation fully.

Similarly, if a person with a cognitive disability is manipulated into a situation where they are restrained, but they don’t have the mental capacity to understand the circumstances fully, this could also be unlawful restraint. The individual with a disability may not be able to adequately express or even understand their own consent or lack thereof.

In all these situations, consent isn’t simply about saying “yes” or “no.” It’s about having the capacity to understand the situation and make an informed decision. Those who cannot do so due to age, mental capacity, or other factors are legally deemed unable to give consent.

What Is the Punishment for an Unlawful Restraint Conviction in Texas?

Generally, unlawful restraint is considered a Class A misdemeanor. The penalty for unlawful restraint includes one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $4,000.

A Class A misdemeanor is the most serious level of misdemeanor under Texas law, but it’s still less severe than a felony. Unlawful restraint, in its most basic form, falls under this category.

The elements of this crime include knowingly or intentionally restricting another person’s movements without their consent, thereby interfering with their liberty. The intent behind the restraint is also a crucial component. The act should be intended to prevent the person’s liberation through force, threat, or deception.

For instance, consider a situation where a couple has an argument. Suppose the man, in the heat of the argument, physically prevents the woman from leaving their shared apartment, blocking the door and taking away her keys. Even if the man’s intention was to prolong the discussion and resolve the issue, his actions could still be considered unlawful restraint because he restricted her movement without her consent.

It’s worth noting that although a misdemeanor is not as severe as a felony, it still constitutes a criminal offense that can have serious consequences. A conviction can result in a criminal record, which can affect a person’s employment prospects, housing applications, and even rights to certain social benefits. It can also impact the person’s reputation in their community.

Can Unlawful Restraint Ever Be a Felony?

Yes, in certain situations, unlawful restraint can be considered a felony rather than a Class A misdemeanor. For instance, if the person who is restrained is a child under 17 years of age, the crime can be elevated to a state jail felony, punishable by 180 days to 2 years in state jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

State Jail Felony

Let’s consider a hypothetical situation involving a babysitter named Mary and a 16-year-old girl named Emily. Emily’s parents hire Mary to watch over her for the weekend while they are out of town. However, during the first night, Mary confines Emily to her room, locks the door from the outside, and takes away Emily’s phone, cutting her off from contacting anyone outside. Emily repeatedly requests to be let out, but Mary ignores her pleas.

Emily is restrained against her will for a prolonged period. In this case, Mary’s actions go beyond the duties of a babysitter to ensure Emily’s safety. Instead, she intentionally restrains Emily, a child under the age of 17, without just cause.

Under Texas law, Mary’s actions could be classified as unlawful restraint. Given Emily’s age, this act could be considered a state jail felony, punishable by 180 days to 2 years in state jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

Third-Degree Felony

If the perpetrator exposes the victim to a substantial risk of serious bodily injury, the offense is considered a third-degree felony. The punishment for a third-degree felony in Texas includes a prison sentence of 2 to 10 years and a fine of up to $10,000.

Now, consider a hypothetical situation involving two people, Robert and Jim. Robert, owing to a heated argument over financial disputes, decides to take revenge on Jim. He forces Jim into his car and drives him to an isolated warehouse. Once there, Robert ties Jim up and leaves him alone in the warehouse, promising to return only after a few days.

The warehouse is dilapidated and unsafe, and Jim is unable to free himself or find a way to exit. This environment exposes Jim to a substantial risk of serious bodily injury, given the possibility of building collapse, extreme temperatures, or even an encounter with dangerous wildlife.

In this scenario, Robert has not only restrained Jim against his will but also exposed him to a substantial risk of serious bodily harm. This makes Robert’s actions not just unlawful restraint but potentially a third-degree felony. Such an offense in Texas could lead to a prison sentence of 2 to 10 years and a fine of up to $10,000.

Should I Contact an Attorney Regarding My Unlawful Restraint Charge?

If you’ve been charged with unlawful restraint in Texas, it’s strongly recommended that you seek legal counsel as soon as possible. The penalties can be severe, and the legalities surrounding such charges can be complex.

An experienced Texas criminal lawyer through LegalMatch can help you understand your rights and the best course of action based on your unique circumstances. Remember, securing legal assistance early on can significantly affect the outcome of your case.


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