No one wants to be charged with domestic violence or any related criminal charge. The situation goes from bad to worse for defendants when a prosecutor adds other related charges to the initial domestic violence charge. Rather than facing one criminal charge, you are now facing multiple charges.
One of the most common charges that prosecutors add to domestic violence is false imprisonment. It is important to understand the elements of false imprisonment charges and how these situations play out. Strong defense against such charges is critical to protecting your freedom and your future.
The elements of false imprisonment
In most cases, false imprisonment is a lot less dramatic than its name might imply. In fact, it is quite common to see these charges accompany domestic violence charges.
False imprisonment is codified in California Penal Code (CPC) 236 and CPN 237.
There are two primary elements to false imprisonment that the prosecuting attorney will need to establish:
- Intentional and unlawful restraint, detainment or confinement of another person: This element does not require that you hold or physically restrain the other person. Locking someone in a room or physically blocking a path can be enough. However, the confinement or restraint does need to be intentional. If a door was locked without your knowledge or you had a passageway blocked unintentionally, it would most likely fail to reach the level of intentionality required for a conviction.
- In a way that prevents the alleged victim from moving freely: Preventing movement can result from either preventing someone from exercising their free will or moving someone against their will to a location.
If a prosecutor establishes the first element successfully, the second element becomes easier, but in many cases, these elements are more nuanced than they seem, and specific situations provide avenues for fighting and defeating these charges.
Common false imprisonment situations
While the elements make false imprisonment seem cut and dry, the reality of most human situations is much more complex.
False imprisonment charges can come from situations where one person is standing by and blocking a door during a domestic dispute. That person might have been restraining the other from leaving or making the other person feel like they couldn’t leave, but it might have been completely unintentional. The person standing in the door might have just wanted to talk and didn’t know they were preventing the other’s exit.
Another common scenario that looks like false imprisonment on paper but is not involves self-defense. An alleged perpetrator of “false imprisonment” might have faced attacks or threats earlier in the encounter. In that case, they merely restrained the other as a form of self defense to make sure that person wouldn’t attack again. Although it looks like a violent, aggressive altercation, it was merely a means of self-protection.
The challenges of prosecutors proving false imprisonment
The scenarios noted above make these charges extremely difficult to prove. Most domestic violence situations have more reasonable explanations than they seem on paper. A report that said “He stood in the door preventing her from leaving, then he restrained her on the bed preventing her movement” seems very solid. But it does not account for the details that could nullify the necessary elements of false imprisonment.
Although it is notoriously difficult for prosecutors to make false imprisonment charges stick, they often add these charges to domestic violence charges. They do this to obtain leverage. It is much easier to plea bargain down with only one charge on the table, but with three or four distinct criminal charges, prosecutors think it makes it harder for a defense lawyer, because there is so much potential.
What can you do?
A good defense lawyer can see through this tactic. A prosecutor can pile on 100 charges. If we know these charges have no chance, we can get them eliminated and move to negotiating and fighting the charges that might have a chance.
Throwing false imprisonment charges onto a domestic violence case is, in many cases, a bluff. Prosecutors and defense attorneys are both lawyers. We both see when a charge doesn’t stand a chance. The prosecutor then throws a charge at someone, but they won’t pursue it if it has no legs.
A good criminal defense lawyer can recognize that bluff, call it out and work on the charges that might have some momentum. It is critical to work with a lawyer with the knowledge and experience to recognize the bluff and fight to protect your interests.