False imprisonment, also known as unlawful imprisonment, happens when a person without legal authority or justification purposefully restrains another individual, prohibiting them from moving about freely.
According to California statutes, false imprisonment is “the unlawful violation of the personal liberty of another.” Prosecutors will often add this charge in a domestic violence situation, knowing it is difficult to prove, in an attempt to add leverage to their case.
Examples in domestic violence cases
A spouse grabbing their partner’s arm to prevent them from leaving during a heated argument runs the risk of being charged with false imprisonment in addition to domestic violence charges. Blocking a doorway, locking someone in a room, pinning someone to a bed or on the ground or refusing to stop and let a spouse out of a vehicle are other examples. The state must prove two components for a conviction:
- The defendant unlawfully and intentionally restrained, detained or confined a person
- The defendant’s actions forced a person to stay at or go to another location against their will
Refusing to let a person out of a car, in some instances, could be charged as a more serious kidnapping offense, depending upon the circumstances.
Charges and potential penalties
False imprisonment can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. A felony can result in cases where implied or actual threats are made, or violence, deceit, or fraud is present. Punishments for convictions are:
- Felony: A maximum of three years in state prison and up to a $10,000 fine. Defendants typically face other charges, such as domestic violence, battery, criminal threats or sex offenses.
- Misdemeanor: Up to one year in county jail and/or a $1,000 fine. For a first offense, defendants usually get probation, but that depends on completing community service, paying fines and anger management courses if required.
In some felony cases, sentencing enhancements can add up to eight years to a prison term.
Defending against false imprisonment charges
Without credible witnesses or physical evidence, false imprisonment can be challenging to prove. Viable defenses include:
- The accuser gave their consent to be confined
- False accusations
- Self-defense or defending others as long as any force applied is considered reasonable
An experienced criminal defense attorney, who is also a former prosecutor, understands how the state will use additional charges, such as false imprisonment, as a tactic to encourage defendants to plead guilty or enter into a plea agreement.
Your lawyer knows how the system works and that these charges often result from simple misunderstandings. You deserve to have your side heard, and your attorney will aggressively fight these accusations to have them dismissed or to lessen charges and penalties.