False imprisonment occurs when you deprive a person of their liberty. You can commit this offense in many ways, including restraining, confining, or detaining a person without their consent. False imprisonment does not necessarily require the use of violence or force. You can falsely imprison a person without hurting or intending to hurt them. However, a severe offense under PC 236 could result in lengthy prison time and a hefty court fine.

If you face false imprisonment charges, it is advisable to seek the guidance and assistance of a skilled criminal defense attorney. You will be able to understand the legal implications of your charges, your options, and the best strategies to obtain a favorable outcome for your case. Having someone by your side after a criminal arrest also gives you peace of mind as you fight for your freedom.

The Legal Definition of False Imprisonment

False imprisonment laws prohibit anyone from detaining, restraining, or confining another person against the person’s will. Prosecutors charge a violation of this law as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances of the case. It helps to understand what the law states to know the legal implications of your actions and your options. A skilled criminal defense attorney will study your case details to explain your charges and possible penalties if the court convicts you. But before that, the DA must prove your case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Prosecutors must prove all elements of an offense for the court to deliver a guilty verdict. These elements provide the legal definition of the offense. Here are the elements of false imprisonment that the DA must prove for you to be guilty of your charges:

  • You willfully and unlawfully detained, confined, or restrained another person
  • You made the person go or remain in a particular place against their will

Example: Esther is unhappy with what her son (Liam, 19) does while she is at work. One day, she locks Liam in his bedroom to minimize his movement and interaction with neighborhood friends.

Esther is guilty of false imprisonment because she infringes on her son’s right to move against his consent. Even if Esther lets Liam out of his bedroom in the evening after work, she is still guilty.

False imprisonment does not have to take a long time, depriving a person’s freedom for even a short period can result in a criminal conviction.

When prosecuting false imprisonment cases under PC 236, the prosecutor must demonstrate two main elements to obtain a conviction:

  • That you willfully and unlawfully detained, confined, or restrained another person by deceit, fraud, violence, or menace
  • You made the person go or remain in a particular place against their will

Here are some aspects of this legal definition in more detail:

You willfully commit an act when you do it deliberately or intentionally, not accidentally. The prosecutor must demonstrate that your actions are deliberate or that you are fully conscious of your actions.

Additionally, you commit an act against another person’s will when you know the person does not agree to the act. A person should act voluntarily or freely to consent. They must also know and understand the nature and consequences of that act. If the person does not agree to the restraining, detention, or confinement or does not understand what it means, you are guilty of false imprisonment.

Some people commit an act of false imprisonment by violence, meaning that they use more physical force than is necessary to restrain another person. This is seen mainly in domestic violence cases. Other people use menace, meaning they physically or verbally threaten to harm the victim. The threat of injury (including the use of a deadly weapon) can be implied or expressed.

Example: Linda goes to Timmy’s house (her boyfriend) to break up with him. Timmy does not receive the breakup news well. Out of devastation, he threatens to kill Linda if she dares open the front door to leave. Linda does not attempt to leave or call for help out of fear.

In this case, Timmy is guilty of false imprisonment by menace for threatening to harm Linda if she exercises her freedom of movement.

Note: False imprisonment does not necessarily mean that you tie a person up, handcuff them, or lock them up in a cell. It can happen in any place, including open spaces. What matters is the fear of leaving that you instill in the victim.

Additionally, false imprisonment is the primary intent of this offense. It means that the judge can deliver a guilty verdict even if your intention was not to confine the victim unlawfully. What matters are your intentional actions that caused the victim to suffer unlawful confinement.

Example: A mother tricks her teenage daughter into hiding in the basement, claiming there is an armed man outside their house. She tells the lie to keep her daughter from leaving the house. After several hours of hiding, the mother apologizes and tells the daughter the truth.

Here, the mother is guilty of false imprisonment, even if she did not unlawfully confine her daughter. Her lie restricted her daughter’s movements for a long enough time.

Possible Penalties for a False Imprisonment Conviction

PC 237 makes false imprisonment a wobbler offense. The prosecutor can file felony or misdemeanor charges, depending on the case details and the defendant’s criminal history.

The prosecutor will likely file misdemeanor charges if you commit false imprisonment and accomplish the offense without menace or violence. A misdemeanor conviction is punishable by the following:

  • Misdemeanor probation
  • A one-year jail sentence
  • A court fine of not more than $1,000

The prosecutor will likely file felony charges if there are aggravating factors in your case, like the use of violence, fraud, deceit, or menace. A felony conviction is punishable by the following:

  • Felony probation
  • A maximum of three years in jail
  • A court fine of not more than $10,000

But if the victim is a protected person under the law (including children, dependent adults, and older people), the judge could sentence you to four years in prison.

You will likely receive a ten-year prison sentence if you use a deadly weapon like a gun to threaten the victim while committing the offense. If you discharged the gun, the judge will likely issue a 25-year prison sentence, and if the victim sustained a severe injury from the gun, you could receive life imprisonment.

Probation Sentence

Judges issue probation sentences for misdemeanor and felony cases. It means you will serve your sentence out of jail but under strict probation conditions. Misdemeanor probations last up to three years, while felony probations can last up to five years. You must agree to abide by all the conditions you will receive for your probation so that the judge can sentence you to probation. Examples of these conditions include:

  • Submitting periodic progress reports to the court (for misdemeanor probations)
  • Meeting regularly with your probation officer to discuss your progress (for felony probation)
  • Participating in community service
  • Taking anger management or drug or alcohol treatment classes
  • Not committing a crime or facing arrest while on probation

The judge can revoke your probation and sentence you to the required period if you violate any probation conditions.

Other Consequences of a Conviction

In addition to the penalties you receive during sentencing, a conviction for false imprisonment will likely result in other life-changing consequences. For example, you will have a criminal conviction that can impact your life for a very long time. A criminal conviction can stay on your record for years. Anyone conducting a background check on you can see the sentence and decide how to treat you. Some employers do that to determine whether or not to hire. Some landlords also use criminal records to determine a person’s eligibility to rent or lease. You could miss a lot of opportunities because of a damaging criminal record.

A felony conviction for false imprisonment can also result in losing gun rights. Remember that felons are prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms in California. You will no longer be able to use or acquire a gun after the conviction.

A criminal conviction will also affect your social life. Some people lose the love of their family and friends immediately after an arrest. It could be difficult to recover what you have lost after serving a jail or prison sentence.

Thus, seek the help and support of an experienced criminal attorney after your arrest for false imprisonment. You can file your charges for a favorable outcome. Then, you will not have to worry about these and many other severe consequences of your conviction.

How To Defend Yourself Against False Imprisonment Charges

The good news is that a criminal trial allows you to defend your charges for a fair outcome. You can do this with the help of a competent criminal defense attorney. A skilled attorney will use one or more legal defense strategies to fight your charges. They could compel the judge to reduce or dismiss your charges. Here are some of the best strategies to use in your case:

You Are Legally Allowed to Restrain the Victim

You can use this defense strategy if you are a law enforcement officer and have the right to restrain the victim because they are a suspected offender. In some cases, the police are accused of false imprisonment, illegal detentions, and unlawful arrests for doing their job. You are not guilty under PC 236 if you have the legal authority to detain or restrain the person. If you have a valid warrant for the person’s arrest, your attorney can use it as evidence to demonstrate your innocence.

In some cases, civilians can arrest a legal citizen if a person commits a crime and the police are not at the crime scene. You can use this defense if you believe that your actions were legal under the circumstances.

The Alleged Victim Consented to the Act

Remember that false imprisonment is a crime you commit against the other person’s consent. Victims consent when they understand the nature of the act and agree to it. If the alleged victim understood what you were doing and agreed to it, you can use this defense to compel the judge to dismiss your charges. Your attorney can argue that the victim voluntarily participated in the detention, confinement, or restraining. An eyewitness testimony, written communication, or audio or video recordings can support your claim.

Your Actions Were in Self-Defense

If you unlawfully restrained, detained, or confined a person to defend yourself or another person from imminent harm, the judge will dismiss your charges. The law allows using reasonable force to protect oneself or others if you believe you are facing immediate harm.

You can argue that the alleged victim was threatening to harm you, another person, or themselves, and confining them was the best way to keep you, them, or another person safe. For example, you can legally confine a person in a safe space to keep them from harming themselves as you seek help.

You Were Exercising Your Shopkeeper’s Privilege

Shopkeepers and storeowners can detain or restrain people caught in the act or suspected of crime in their businesses. For example, you can restrain a customer as you call the police if you find them or suspect them of stealing from your shop. This way, the police can investigate and resolve the matter. However, the law allows you to keep suspected offenders for a reasonable time. How you treat them while in detention also matters.

Find a Skilled Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Do you or someone you know face false imprisonment charges in Sacramento?

These serious charges could result in lengthy prison sentences and a hefty court fine. But we can help you develop a solid defense against your charges at Foos Gavin Law Firm. Our highly skilled and experienced criminal defense attorneys will consider your case details to advise on your options and the best defense strategies. We could compel the judge to dismiss or reduce your charges. Call us at 916-779-3500 to learn more.