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False Imprisonment

If you have been charged with the very serious crime of "false imprisonment" in the Los Angeles Area or anywhere in Southern California, you can't afford to entrust you case to any but the most experienced lawyers in this very specific practice area.

The severity of a false imprisonment charge, and of related charges, varies greatly from case to case - some are misdemeanors and some felonies. But they all create a permanent criminal record upon conviction and may subject you to jail or prison time, fines, years of probation, and other serious penalties.

At Leah Legal, we have fought and defeated false imprisonment charges numerous times in the past for our clients. We understand the details of PC 236, PC 237, and other relevant California statutes; and we are fully familiar with the courtroom dynamics and processes involved in these types of cases.

Contact Leah Legal today by calling 818-484-1100 anytime 24/7, and we will give you a free legal consultation on the details of your case. The sooner you call, the sooner we can get started building you a strong defense!

What Is "False Imprisonment" In California?

The term "false imprisonment" might seem to those who hear it for the first time to refer to being convicted and imprison for something you did not do or to being illegally detained by the police. But that's not at all what it means.

Instead, false imprisonment refers to a defendant who allegedly illegally detained or "imprisoned" another person, even if for only a brief period of time. Some kind of force, threat, or other action has to have been taken so as to hold a person against his or her will in a particular location.

There are several statutes in the California Penal Code to do with false imprisonment, and there are other offenses very closely related to this crime. We will look at PC 236, PC 237, PC 210, and other relevant statutes below.

False Imprisonment Under PC 236

A PC 236 false imprisonment violation is defined as an "unlawful violation of another person's personal liberty." 

The prosecution must prove that the defendant illegally "restrained, detained, or confined" someone without his/her consent. This must have been done with intent - otherwise, it's accidental and not false imprisonment.

In most cases, false imprisonment is a misdemeanor offense in California, but it can also be a felony. PC 236 is basically a misdemeanor, while PC 237a can be either misdemeanor or felony.

A PC 236 violation is punishable by a year in county jail, a fine of up to a thousand dollars, or both.

Also note that you can be sued under civil law for false imprisonment, on top of any criminal case and/or penalties that may apply.

In defending against false imprisonment charges, we at Leah Legal use a variety of effective defense strategies, depending on the details of each case.

Here are some of the most common defenses we use:

  • The detainment was lawful. If you were a witness to a crime, under California law, you can take "reasonable" actions to detain the criminal until police arrive to arrest him or her. Citizen's arrest under PC 837 is not false imprisonment if done "in good faith." And by the same token, if you reported someone to police, and he/she was then arrested but it turned out to be a false charge - it's a mistake, not false imprisonment. And even if you lied to get someone arrested, that's filing a false police report but not false imprisonment.
  • Acting "In Good Faith." Even if you forcibly or otherwise detained someone or restrained someone, IF it can be shown that person was likely to soon become a danger to himself or to other people, you acted "in good faith" and are not guilty. But your reasons for the detention must be "reasonable" and your methods acceptable.
  • Voluntary presence of "victim." Sometimes, people make a false imprisonment charge against another person, when in fact, nothing was done to actually force them to stay somewhere or go somewhere against their own will.
  • Lack of intent. You cannot have falsely imprisoned someone, legally defined, without intentionally committing such actions as caused him/her to be detained against his/her will. You don't have to have intended the detainment as such, but the act that led to it cannot have been accidental.
  • Parental disciplinary rights. No one can be said to have falsely imprisoned his/her child or a child he/she had custody over because of not allowing the child to go out of the house or "grounding" the child as a disciplinary measure.

False Imprisonment Under PC 237a

The basic difference between PC 236 and PC 237a false imprisonment charges is that with the latter, an element of violence, menace, threat, deceit or fraud was involved and used in "forcing" the detainment of the victim.

And PC 237b adds yet stiffer penalties should a 237a style false imprisonment have been committed against an elderly person or dependent adult.

For the most part, PC 237 false imprisonment is much more likely to be a felony than PC 236, though this is not an absolute rule. False imprisonment involving violence, threat, or deceit stands between kidnapping and "ordinary" false imprisonment in the California Penal Code in level of severity.

Note that you do not have to have done any of the following to be convicted under PC 237a:

  • Committed "actual violence," as in physical force being applied that did or could cause physical injury or death to the victim.
  • Physically restrained, detained, or confined the victim.
  • Verbalized or issued a threat or waved a firearm or other deadly weapon at the victim

All of the above are possible and common enough means of committing false imprisonment, but remember that merely taking such actions as make someone else "reasonably fear" for their physical safety - or for that of another person - can be a means of committing a "violent" kind of false imprisonment.

Plus, use of deceit or fraud to "trick" the other person into staying somewhere or going somewhere they would not otherwise have been willing to stay/go is another type of false imprisonment.

Note that some form of "force" has to be used for any type of false imprisonment charge to hold. But some form of "violence" or "fraud" has to have been used for a felony level false imprisonment charge to hold.

Also, realize that some felony level false imprisonment charges differ from "kidnapping" only in that the victim was not moved. Kidnapping requires forced movement, at least for a short distance, of the victim, while that is not part of the elements of the crime of false imprisonment.

A misdemeanor level false imprisonment (often PC 236) is punishable, remember, by a year in county jail and/or a $1,000 fine. Felony false imprisonment (often PC 237) is punishable by from 16 months to 3 years in state prison

PC 210, False Imprisonment of a Hostage

Under California Penal Code Section 210.5, false imprisonment of another person so as to avoid capture/arrest by police is addressed. This is a special form of false imprisonment that involves the taking of a "hostage."

The same elements of the basic crime of false imprisonment (PC 236), detainment of another person illegally, purposefully, and without his/her consent; and the added element of use of violence, threat, or deceit added for felony level false imprisonment in PC 237a are still present. But now, under PC 210.5, the false imprisonment is used to protect the perpetrator from imminent arrest by law enforcement. 

The hostage is used as a "human shield," with threat of physical harm or death being inflicted on the victim unless police back off and allow the perpetrator to escape. The life or well being of the victim (or victims) is then used as a "bargaining chip," a tool to help the criminal make his or her getaway.

Normally, PC 210.5 false imprisonment of a hostage greatly increases the risk of harm to the victim(s). And it's very easy for PC 210.5 to slip into kidnapping since as soon as the hostage taker forcibly moves the hostage (not at all uncommon) it becomes kidnapping according to California's legal distinction here.

To defend against the charge of false imprisonment of a hostage, we can use a number of strategies, including these:

  • There was not false imprisonment at all - the same defense arguments used against PC 236 above could sometimes be used here. Consent of the "victim" is especially commonly used against PC 210.5 among these options.
  • There was no imminent arrest involved, so there was no attempt to avoid arrest by means of false imprisonment, even if false imprisonment did in fact occur. This distinction could greatly lessen any sentence.
  • No increased risk of harm to the victim existed because all threats were empty. You lacked the ability to carry them out.
  • You were under duress. It may be that another person threatened to kill or harm you unless you put the victim under false imprisonment. Thus, the crime would be done to escape personal harm rather than to escape arrest.
  • Self defense. The alleged victim threatened to harm or kill you, and you imprisoned him or her to prevent that threat from being carried out.
  • Defense of others. You detained the "victim" because he or she was about to harm another person or him/her self - or you had a reasonable belief that that was so. Or, it could be your accomplice in crime would have harmed or killed the victim, so you took charge of the hostage instead simply to prevent that worse fate.

Under PC 236 and PC 237, a misdemeanor gets you only jail time for one year, and a felony gets you up to 3 years in state prison. But PC 210.5 is always a felony crime. And it can be punished by 3 to 8 years in state prison.

The PC 210.5 false imprisonment of a hostage law was first passed in 1987. It was meant to create enhanced penalties for hostage taking over against lesser forms of false imprisonment - and it certainly does just that.

You don't want to face any false imprisonment charge without the benefit of a well seasoned defense attorney with a deep understanding of this practice area. But PC 210.5 is especially severe and you should insist on the best possible defense available.

Other Related Offenses

Very briefly, we want to mention other related offenses that often come up instead of or in addition to the charge of false imprisonment (in all of its various forms):

  • PC 209 - Kidnapping. It is merely the act of moving the victim that distinguishes kidnapping from false imprisonment, and the movement need not be far if it substantially effected the risk to the victim or the kidnapper's ability to potentially escape.
  • PC 209.5 - Kidnapping during a carjacking. This is a special class of kidnapping. It may be possible that false imprisonment will be charged instead if the victims were not moved in the heisted car.
  • PC 242 - battery. It's not uncommon for those falsely imprisoned to also suffer assault and battery.
  • PC 12022.7 - great bodily injury enhancement. If severe bodily harm was inflicted on the victim, 3 to 6 extra years can be added to any prison term.
  • PC 187 - murder. If the victim was killed after being held hostage, both murder and PC 210.5 false imprisonment will be charged.

Contact Us Today For Immediate Help!

At Leah Legal, we have deep experience and well honed expertise in defending against false imprisonment, and similar charges, in Los Angeles and Southern California courts. 

We will know how to build you a solid defense and how to win the best possible outcome to your case, be that a dismissal, acquittal, or reduced charge and/or sentence.

Contact our criminal defense attorney anytime 24/7/365 by calling 818-484-1100, for a free, no obligation consultation. We will be happy to assist you and can give you immediate legal help on your false imprisonment defense or other case-type.