What is False Imprisonment?

What is False Imprisonment?

False imprisonment, as a term, is intentionally restricting another person’s freedom of movement. However, it can be seen as both a crime and a civil cause of action. What if somebody is being held against his or her will in a bank hold-up? This would be cause for false imprisonment, because they are being told they will be killed if they leave. The crime can really occur anywhere that a person is held against their will, so many situations apply.

Examples and Non-Examples
Here are some examples of false imprisonment:

  • A person locking somebody in a room against their will
  • A person grabbing onto somebody so they can’t leave
  • An employer who detains somebody for an unreasonable amount of time for suspected theft
  • Nursing home staff that medicates somebody against his or her will with threats

These things do not constitute false imprisonment:

  • A person grabbing your arm but you know you can free yourself
  • A storekeeper detaining somebody for a reasonable amount of time because they truly did see a theft take place
  • A person closing a door and asking you not to leave, but you know you can still leave

False Imprisonment as an Intentional Tort and as a Crime
Intentional Tort: False imprisonment is known as an intentional tort, which is a wrongful act that results in harm to another. Intentional torts have nothing to do with the negligence or reckless behavior of another – instead; they are committed with a purpose, and actual intent. False imprisonment may include the unlawful restraint of another against their will and without legal justification. Facts must be assessed and it shall be determined whether or not there was force or a threat involved when restraining the accusing party.

Crime: In other situations, false imprisonment may be seen as a crime. A criminal offense is a cause of action brought by the state in defense of the public welfare, which is punishable by fine or imprisonment. The elements in concerns to false imprisonment are typically the same – the prosecutor must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that all elements of false imprisonment have been met. False imprisonment can sometimes become a kidnapping case if the detention is for a significant length of time or involves moving the detained party some distance from the initial point of the detention.

Sometimes, somebody may use a defense against false imprisonment claims. These often turn on whether or not the person claiming the imprisonment gave consent or had reasonable grounds to justify the imprisonment. Here are some common defenses to a claim:

  • Voluntary Consent: Voluntary consent is often a defense to false imprisonment. If you consent to confinement, you cannot claim false imprisonment under any circumstances.
  • Police Privilege: Police officers have a right to detain somebody when they have probable cause to believe that this person has engaged in wrongdoing or a crime has been committed. This is the case in all states.
  • Shopkeeper’s Privilege: Merchants are able to detain retail patrons for a brief period of time when they have reasonable grounds to believe that the person has committed retail theft. Courts will look at whether the store’s actions under the circumstances were reasonable.
  • Citizen’s Arrest: A person who is not a law enforcement official can make an arrest be calling for a peace officer when a crime is committed. This defense, however, is not meant to give citizens the right to take place of necessary law enforcement.


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