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California’s False Imprisonment Laws

False imprisonment happens when a person illegally and wilfully confines another person without any authority of law or the consent of such person. Such acts are punishable both under criminal law and the law of torts. The California Penal Code 236 defines “False Imprisonment” as an unlawful violation of the personal liberty of another person.

Is False Imprisonment Same as Kidnapping?

No. Kidnapping as defined in PC Section 207, is taking away or moving a person over a substantial distance, by the use of force or fear and without consent. The key ingredient of the crime of kidnapping is movement over a substantial distance. On the other hand, false imprisonment is the act of illegally and wilfully restraining, detaining, and confining any person without authority or consent.

What are the Essential Elements of False Imprisonment?

The following are the essential elements of false imprisonment:

  1. There must be intentional and illegal confinement, restraint, and detention.
  2. The act takes away the personal liberty of another person.
  3. The victim is compelled to stay at someplace or move to another place for a considerable period. The tenure of false imprisonment is not relevant. Even if the imprisonment is for short period, it will be considered a violation of PC 236 and 237.
  4. The act was done without the authority of law or consent.
How Can a Person Take Away Personal Liberty of Another Person?

The United States Supreme Court has opined that unlawful confinement and restraint are essential for false imprisonment. The Courts have clarified that personal liberty means freedoms that are inherent in our society including the freedom to freely move around. The Courts have held that if a person by using force or threatening to use force deprives any other individual of his liberty by forcing them to remain at someplace or move to someplace will be said to have committed false imprisonment.

A person can cause false imprisonment either by use of force, or by use of fraud, coercion, or unreasonable duress.

What are the Defenses Available to a Person who is charged under PC 237?

The following defenses are available to a person charged under PC 237:

  1. A person has the authority to restrain, detail, or confine any person.
  2. The person has consented to such acts.
  3. The person is exercising his right to self-defense.
  4. The person is exercising his parental rights.
Restraining, Confining, and Detaining your Spouse or Partner Can Result in your Arrest

Wrongfully restraining and confining your spouse or partner without consent can be construed as false imprisonment. Under the Penal Code, a person who has committed false imprisonment can be punished with a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.

False Imprisonment is a Wobbler Offense

False imprisonment can be punished as a misdemeanor or felony depending upon the circumstances of the case. If false imprisonment is caused by the use of violence, menace, fraud, or deceit then it will be treated as a felony and it is punishable with imprisonment 16 months, two or three years as the case may be.

Can Shop Owner Confine or Detain a Person?

Shop-keepers are allowed to detain a person who is suspected of Shoplifting. The courts in this regard have opined that when the shop-keeper is detaining any person on suspicion of shoplifting then such shop-keeper is under a duty to investigate such suspicions within a reasonable time and in a reasonable manner.

Is it True that the Penalties are More Severe if a Crime is committed against the Elders and Dependent Parents?

A person who in the course of committing false imprisonment inflicts grave bodily injury on an elderly person or dependant parent will be punished more severely according to Penal Code Section 368. Such a person will be punished with additional imprisonment of 3 years if the victim is less than 70 years of age and 5 years if the victim is 70 years of age or older.

On the other hand, if the person dies as a result of such injury, the person responsible can face imprisonment up to 5 years, if the victim is under 70 years of age or seven years if the victim is 70 years of age or older

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