If you hold or detain another person without their permission or consent and legal authorization or justification, you might face false imprisonment charges. Your career, relationships, freedom, and reputation are at stake. Because of the severe penalties and consequences you might face it is advisable to seek an aggressive criminal defense attorney's legal guidance and support. At the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we understand how devastating the experience can be, and can put our knowledge, skills, and expertise to develop a robust legal defense.
Understanding False Imprisonment
California Penal Code section 236 is the statute that defines a false imprisonment crime. It is an illegal violation of somebody else's liberty.
Perfect examples of false imprisonment include:
- Preventing a person from leaving by grabbing their hands
- Locking a person in a room
- To tie a person to a chair.
However, if the alleged victim consented to the conduct, it would not be false imprisonment. It could occur if:
- You are restraining a person during a self-defense class.
- You are engaging in consensual bondage.
- You are running a commercial escape room game.
Elements of the Offense
To be convicted of PC 236, the prosecutor must prove the following beyond any reasonable doubt:
- You intentionally detained, confined, or restrained a person,
- The detention, confinement, or restraint forced the alleged victim to go or stay somewhere for some time, irrespective of how short,
- The alleged victim didn't consent,
- The alleged victim was harmed, and
- Your conduct caused the victim's injuries.
Often these facts of the crime are summarized into two (2) elements, namely:
- You intentionally and illegally restrained, confined, or detained somebody else.
- You caused the victim to go somewhere or stay against their will.
To gain a better understanding of Penal Code section 236 PC, here are the definition of legal terms:
Restrained, Detained, or Confinement
Probably, this element is the most essential the prosecution team should establish. However, it confuses.
Fortunately, the law has clarified the issues about restraining, confining, or detaining a person. For instance, in a PC 236 case, there has to be confinement, detention, or restraint. It isn't a must that an individual has to be locked in a prison or jail.
Also, there isn't a unique method that a person could deceptively imprison another. Numerous strategies that an individual can confine, detain, or restrain another include:
- Using threats of force or force
- Through unreasonable duress, deceit, or fraud
- Using menace or physical barriers
Please note, there isn't a requirement that the alleged victim knows that they are being detained, confined, or restrained.
Civil Vs. Criminal False Imprisonment
Under PC 236, it is a crime to confine somebody else falsely. In addition to that, false imprisonment is a tort which can lead to a civil lawsuit.
The facts and definitions of the false imprisonment tort are similar to the offense under Penal Code section 236. The civil tort comprises of the:
- Deliberate confinement of an individual
- Without legal privilege
- For a reasonable period, irrespective of how short.
Moreover, restraint under the tort of false imprisonment could be realized using:
- Threat of force
- Physical force
- Confinement using a physical barrier
If found guilty of PC 236 as a crime, you will be charged with criminal penalties and consequences. In a false imprisonment civil lawsuit, the plaintiff sues the defendant to receive damages that stemmed from the false imprisonment.
Damages that the plaintiff could recover in the civil case include (and not limited to):
- Loss of time
- Physical inconvenience or discomfort
- Resulting injury or illness
- Damage to the plaintiff's reputation
- Business interruption
Penalties, Sentencing, and Consequences of Violating PC 236
The violation of PC 236 is a wobbler. That means the crime can be charged either as a felony or a misdemeanor.
Per Penal Code section 237(a), false imprisonment is a misdemeanor if violence, deceit, fraud, or menace were not involved in the offense's commission. If charged with a misdemeanor, you will face:
- A maximum fine of one thousand dollars
- A one-year county jail sentence
PC 236 is a California felony if the offense is affected by deceit, fraud, or violence. If found guilty, you will serve sixteen (16) months, two (2) years, or three (3) years in county jail.
As far as false imprisonment is concerned, the term "violence" refers to the physical force more significant than rationally essential to restrain a person.
False imprisonment achieved through deceit or fraud consists of curtailing a person's freedom by lying to them. Deceit or fraud should be intentional.
On the contrary, the term "menace" means the physical or verbal threat of harm. The threat could be implied or expressed.
For example, if you told your colleague to stay in their office because of a bomb threat, thinking that it is true, you have not violated false imprisonment laws even though you're mistaken. However, if you're intentionally lying about the threat, you could be convicted of California false imprisonment.
Enhanced Penalties With a Dependent or Senior Parent Victim
Violation of PC 236 of a dependent or an elder adult using fraud, deceit, menace, or violence is punishable under California Penal Code section 368 PC.
Per PC 368(b)(2), if the dependent or elderly adult sustains a great bodily injury during the offense's commission, the accused will face an enhanced prison sentence. It includes:
- Three (3) years if the alleged victim is aged below seventy years
- Five (5) years if the alleged victim is at least seventy years
PC 368 (b)(3) applies to the situation if:
- The accused violates false imprisonment laws, and
- During the violation, the accused led to the demise of the dependent or older person.
In this case, the accused will face an additional prison term of:
- Five (5) years if the dependent or senior person is below seventy years
- Seven (7) years if the alleged victim is older than seventy years
False Imprisonment of a Hostage
False imprisonment of a hostage carries three, five, or eight years in jail.
PC 236 for Purposes of Human Trafficking or Forced Labor
If you deny a person of their liberty with an intent to acquire forced services or labor, you can face human trafficking charges. If found guilty, you will face:
- Five hundred thousand dollars in fines
- Five, eight, or twelve years in state prison
If the forced labor involved prostitution or sex work, the penalties are enhanced to:
- Five hundred thousand dollars in fines
- Eight, fourteen, or twenty years in prison
And, if the forced sex work involved a minor, the offense is punishable by:
- A maximum fine of five hundred thousand dollars
- Fifteen years to life imprisonment
You will face enhanced consequences and penalties in forced labor and human trafficking cases if:
- It's your subsequent human trafficking crime.
- The offense resulted in severe bodily harm to the alleged victim.
Moreover, you might face enhanced fines if the crime was serious or involved a significant amount of money.
Legal Defenses to a False Imprisonment Charge
If accused of false imprisonment, you can raise a legal defense. A valid legal defense could get your charge dismissed or reduced. Fortunately, there are numerous defenses that your criminal defense lawyer could present on your behalf:
Legal Authority to Restrain
You could not be convicted of false imprisonment if you had the lawful authority to restrain somebody else. Often law enforcement personnel or police officers raise the defense in cases involving illegal detainments and arrests.
A shopkeeper and store owner who has probable cause that their customer violated Penal Code section 459.5 (shoplifting) can use the shopkeeper's privilege.
The privilege permits the shop owner to detain a suspect to investigate. However, the investigation should be executed reasonably and for a reasonable amount of time. Case circumstances determine the reasonableness.
Can a Parent Legally Restrain Their Child?
Parents in California have the right to protect and discipline their children by denying them the liberty provided the punishment is realistic. Nevertheless, parents who confine their children for an illegal purpose or intending to put into risk the children’s safety and health can be charged with Penal Code section 236.
Whether you're guilty depends primarily on:
- Your intent to restrain or confine the minor, and
- Whether the confinement or restraint is reasonable
The law permits a person to use reasonable force in their defense or others if they think that they are about to suffer immediate bodily injury. In other words, self-defense is a valid defense to Penal Code section 236 PC cases involving threats to the defendant's bodily injury.
One of the elements of PC 236 is that the alleged victim didn't consent. Therefore, it's a defense for you to establish that the victim agreed to your confinement, restraint, or detainment.
You can prove this through:
- Eyewitness testimony
- Written communication like an email or text message
- Audio or video recordings
You Acted in Good Faith
If you can prove that the restraint was due to reasonable belief that the victim will endanger themselves or another person, this could be well-thought-out to be acting in good faith. For instance, if your husband makes a statement that caused you to think he was planning to commit suicide or injure your children, you cannot be sentenced for restraining the person.
If you witness a crime, the law permits you to take an appropriate, reasonable, and legal step to detain the defendant until the police reach the crime scene. Per PC 837, you can arrest somebody else under the conditions below:
- For a public crime committed or tried in your presence
- When a California felony has been committed, and you reasonably believe the individual arrested committed the crime
- When the alleged victim has committed a felony, although not in your presence
Discussed below are offenses prosecuted alongside or in place of false imprisonment:
Under PC 207, kidnapping is defined as moving a person a significant distance. It is achieved through the use of fear or force. Fear or force means that the defendant inflicted physical force on the victim, and the defendant threatened to inflict impending physical harm.
If the defendant moves somebody else and
- Use fraud, fear, or force on an alleged victim below fourteen,
- Accompany the kidnapping with a demand for ransom,
- Cause the alleged victim death or severe bodily injury,
- Kidnap somebody else while violating carjacking laws,
- Violate related laws to PC 207,
the crime becomes aggravated kidnapping.
Simple kidnapping is charged as a California felony. It is punishable by eight years in state prison.
On the other hand, aggravated kidnapping is a felony. It attracts five (5) years to life imprisonment, depending mainly on the case facts.
Moreover, kidnapping is a California strike per Three-Strike Law, and the defendant should serve more than eighty-five percent of the sentence before they qualify for a release.
Child Abduction (PC 278)
Child abduction is also referred to as concealment or detainment of a minor child from their legal custodian or child stealing.
You violate Penal Code 278 PC if you maliciously take a minor from their legal custodian when you have no rights to the child's custody. An individual is entitled to custody over a minor if they:
- Are a parent to the minor and hasn't had their rights revoked or restricted by the court, or
- Has a custody order
PC 278 does not need that you transport or move the minor. All you require is intending to conceal or detain the minor from their legal guardian.
It is a California wobbler. If charged with a misdemeanor, you will serve a year in jail and pay a fine of one thousand dollars. A felony carries:
- Four (4) years in state prison
- Ten thousand dollars in fine
You will also compensate the prosecution team and the victim for the cost incurred when locating and returning the minor.
Penal Code Section 210.5 (False Imprisonment of a Hostage to Avoid Arrest)
Also known as false imprisonment to protect against arrest, you break Penal Code 210.5 PC by:
- Using somebody else as a human shield,
- Falsely imprisoning somebody else to avoid an arrest, or
- When false imprisonment significantly increases the risk of harm to the victim.
It is charged as a felony. If convicted, you will spend three (3), five (5), or eight (8) years in jail. And, hinging on the case circumstances, you might face more penalties for related offenses like:
- Murder if the hostage dies
Can Your False Imprisonment Charge Be Dismissed or Dropped?
If you are facing a criminal charge, you might be wondering whether the charge can be dismissed or dropped.
Not all false imprisonment charges go to trial. Many are dropped before trial after negotiations between defense attorneys and prosecutors. Then the prosecutor drops the charges.
Both case dismissal or dropping result in the accused going free. However, case dismissal only happens after the charges have been brought while a case could be dropped anytime.
Reasons Why a Prosecutor Can Drop Your Charges
There are numerous reasons why the prosecutor can drop your false imprisonment charges. One of them is when the alleged victim fails to cooperate. If the victim has changed their mind, it is not practical for the prosecution team to continue without sufficient evidence.
Discussed below are other reasons your criminal defense attorney can get the charge dismissed or dropped:
- Insufficient Evidence - The prosecutor might drop the charge if it's determined that the proof against you is not strong. Or, there is new proof that undercuts the prosecutor's case against you. Your lawyer can intercede with the prosecutor and the district attorney when reviewing a police report and claim that there isn't a need to file a formal charge. If the charge gets files irrespective of the inadequate evidence, your lawyer should bring a motion of dismissal.
- Your willingness to cooperate - If the prosecutor finds that you're willing to work with authorities to solve other crimes, your legal expert can convince them to reduce your charge or dismiss/drop the case.
- Procedural issues - The prosecution team should adhere to stringent procedures when booking, arresting, questioning, or performing pretrial activities. If your rights are violated, the errors could be grounds for your case dismissal.
- Violation of the fourth amendment - The U.S. Fourth Amendment protects people from illegal searches and seizures by the police and investigators. Any proof unlawfully acquired must be excluded from your case. Evidence obtained without a warrant is inadmissible in court and might cause the prosecutor to dismiss or drop the false imprisonment charges.
Can Your Charges be Reduced?
If the evidence against you is weak, your criminal charges can be reduced. The prosecutor can offer plea bargain negotiations. It happens when the prosecutor agrees to dismiss your false imprisonment charge. In return, you will plead no contest or guilty to a lesser charge.
Your lawyer should protect your rights and guide you in the negotiations. They might even advise you to turn the offer down, especially if the evidence against you is weak.
How to Win False Imprisonment Charges in a Courtroom
You might not know what to do after getting into legal trouble. The reason you need to read this section is equipping yourself with tips essential in navigating the judicial system.
- Collect details about your case: Even when you have a lawyer, you should note all your charge documentation. Ensure you keep things tidy. You could do that by collecting the information and then presenting it to your criminal defense attorney for filing.
- Stay out of trouble: The judge might be lenient on you if you have good behavior days following your arrest. That means you should stay out of trouble and make rational decisions.
- Show up: If you are required to appear in court or have a meeting with your defense attorney, show up. It prevents additional charges and stunts the defense.
- Be honest with your defense attorney: Lying to the lawyer is not advisable, particularly if the prosecution team can disprove your argument. Even when you think the matter might hurt the case, tell the attorney about it. It will assist them in preparing adequately for what the prosecutor is likely to say. It is illegal for your attorney to share anything you tell them with any person outside your legal team.
- Remain silent: The police officers aren't your friends and do not have your interests at heart. They are experienced in getting people to incriminate themselves. Whatever you say could be used against you in a court of law. Other than providing your identifying information, do not talk to the law enforcers about the incident without first talking to your attorney.
- Do not contact the victim directly: Once you have been accused of false imprisonment, you should keep a distance. Let correspondence be about your attorney meeting with the alleged victim defense or going to court to argue the case. Meeting with the victim might affect the ability to maintain an objective view of the case.
- Be respectful: Respect can go a long way in court. Address the judge as "your honor" rather than "Mr. Peterson" or "Judge Peterson." Also, try to be polite to the victim. Showing respect for procedures and people in the court will assist you to win the judge's favor.
- Do not interrupt: It might be challenging to sit quietly after the alleged victim, the judge, or the victim's attorney claims that you are lying. However, irrespective of how frustrating it can be, you should not interrupt, particularly not the judge. You will be allowed to tell your side of the story. If you remain calm, you are more convincing.
Find a Seasoned Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Illegally detaining a person in one place is referred to as false imprisonment. Even if the false imprisonment charge originated from a misunderstanding, you could face penalties. Depending on the case circumstances, you could face a felony. If you have been arrested for a violation of PC 236, it is essential to hire an attorney. Contact the legal team at the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm at 714-740-7848 to discuss the available legal options.