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False Imprisonment

California Penal Code 236 PC defines the criminal offense of false imprisonment. You commit this crime if you confine, detain, or restrain an individual against their consent. By doing this, your act causes your victim to be detained somewhere they didn’t intend. You could violate PC 236 without involving violence nor using force. In this regard, California PC has similar characteristics to PC 207, which defines the kidnapping crime. However, with kidnapping, you must make the person move besides confining them.

Getting accused of violating California PC 236 doesn’t mean you are guilty of the said allegations. Hiring a criminal defense lawyer from Leah Legal could increase your chances of acquittal to a great extent. Our team of experienced attorneys has, for many years, helped defendants accused of false imprisonment in Los Angeles and the nearby areas.

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Definition of False Imprisonment Per California Law 

In California PC 236, the law defines false imprisonment as wrongly restraining, detaining, or confining someone else against their will. This means you illegally deprive someone else of their liberty. The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the elements below to prove you are guilty of this offense:

  1. You illegally and deliberately restrained, confined, or detained someone else
  2. Your unlawful acts made someone else go or stay somewhere they never intended for some time, however short
  3. The plaintiff never consented your actions
  4. You were armed
  5. Your illegal act was a significant factor in inflicting injuries to the accuser

The above five elements are often summarized and simplified into two. These are:

  1. You denied someone liberty by illegally and intentionally confining, detaining, and restraining someone else
  2. The confinement, detention, or restraint compelled the accuser to stay or even go somewhere against their will

California PC 236 is closely related to PC 207. The primary disparity is that kidnapping is charged when you take someone else away and compel them to move against their wishes. In contrast, false imprisonment is generally charged when you prevent a person from leaving against their will.

Examples of false imprisonment are:

  • If you get into an argument with your spouse and want to go, you violate California PC 236 if you lock them in the house preventing them from leaving
  • Barricading someone else to prevent them from leaving their house
  • Preventing another person from leaving a nightclub when they wish to leave
  • Blocking another person’s vehicle so they cannot leave the parking lot
  • Tying another person to a seat or evening grabbing their arm to prevent the person from leaving

What Is the Meaning of Confined, Detained, or Restrained?

While the initial element of false imprisonment is one that the prosecution must prove the first, it also doubles as a confusion source. Because of the confusion factor, California courts amended rules to clear concerns touching, detaining, confining, and restraining someone else, under California Penal Code 236. To commit false imprisonment, you don't have to lock someone else in a prison or jail.

California courts ruled that there is not one single manner in which you can falsely imprison another. Examples of ways you can confine, detain, or restrain someone else per California law are:

  • Through threat of force or actual force
  • By deceit, fraud, or any unreasonable duress
  • Through the use of physical barricades or menace

Another clarification suggests that your victim doesn’t have to be aware you are detaining, confining, or restraining them.

Civil vs. Criminal False Imprisonment

Falsely imprisoning someone else against their will is unlawful per California PC Section 236. Also, false imprisonment is a tort that brings about civil lawsuits. Per California PC 236, the elements of both tort and crime of false imprisonment are similar. Like false imprisonment crime, the civil tort comprises the premeditated detainment of someone else, to unlawfully deprive them liberty against their wishes, for any period, however short.

Also, like the crime of false imprisonment, you could confine another person under the tort of false imprisonment by:

  • Detainment by physical blockades
  • Physical force
  • Threat of force
  • Other ways of unwarranted duress

Per California law, if you are guilty of the crime of false imprisonment, you face criminal punishment. In contrast, if you face charges under a civil suit, the court orders you to compensate the accuser for the damages caused by false imprisonment. Examples of possible damages that the accuser could recover in a civil suit are:

  • Reputation damage
  • Business interruption
  • Physical harm or illness that false imprisonment caused
  • Inconvenience or physical discomfort
  • Time lost

Sentencing, Penalties, or Punishment for False Imprisonment Convicts

California PC 237 makes the crime of false imprisonment a wobbler. This means the prosecution could charge you with either a California misdemeanor or a felony. Additionally, under Penal Code 237, the prosecution could decide to enhance your charges if the victim of false imprisonment is a dependent adult or an elder.

Misdemeanor False Imprisonment

False imprisonment is charged as a misdemeanor per California PC 236 if you did not use violence, fraud, deceit, or menace when detaining your victim. As a misdemeanor crime, false imprisonment carries a penalty for serving up to one year in county jail or paying a fine of up to $1,000.

Felony False Imprisonment

Violation of California PC section 236 becomes a felony if you detain another person by deceit, fraud, menace, or violence. Per Penal Code 236, deception and fraud consist of depriving another person’s freedom duping them. The prosecution must prove the deceit or fraud was intentional before the court can convict you.

For example, if you ask your workers to remain in their work stations because of a terrorist threat, believing the information to be correct, the court cannot convict you, although you made a mistake. However, you are guilty of false imprisonment if you purposely lied to your employees about a bomb threat.

Violence, on the other hand, constitutes physical force that surpasses levels that are deemed necessary to confine another person. Menace involves issuing threats of harm physically or verbally. You could issue express threats by a statement or an act, for instance, placing a knife on another person’s neck. If the prosecutor files false imprisonment as a felony crime, your conviction could carry 16 months, two years, or three years in state prison.

Enhanced Penalties with Elder or Dependent Parent Victims

California PC 368(f) states that if your felony false imprisonment victim is an elder or dependent adult, for example, your parent, you could serve time in a county jail for two, three, or four years. According to Penal Code 368 (f), an elder means someone aged 65 or older, whereas a dependent adult refers to a person between 18 and 64 years of age with particular mental or physical conditions.

According to subdivision (b)(2) of PC section 368, if a dependent adult or elder incurs serious bodily harm, when you falsely detain them, the court could impose an additional prison term. The enhancements include:

  • Additional five years in the accuser was at the age of 70 or above
  • Extra three years if the plaintiff was below the age of 70 during your crime commission

California PC 368(b)(3) is applicable in the circumstances like:

  • When you commit false imprisonment
  • Your crime commission leads to the death of the dependent adult or elderly victim

If the elderly or the dependent adult victim dies because of restraining them, the judge has the jurisdiction to enhance your prison sentence. The enhancements include:

  • If the victim were at the age of 70 years or above when your crime commission caused their death, you would attract seven years in prison
  • If the victim of false imprisonment was below 70 years old, the judge imposes an additional five years to your sentencing

Suitable Legal Defenses for California Penal Code 236 PC

Even though false imprisonment is a serious offense, it is also a crime that many innocent people get wrongly accused. You may have had the legal authority to detain the person like making a citizen’s arrest or retaking your property. That said, you can build strong defenses and fight the lawsuit successfully, getting the criminal charges dismissed or reduced. With the help of your lawyer, you can use the legal defenses below to argue against your charges in court.

You Didn’t Restrain the Plaintiff Against Their Will

If you didn’t hold the alleged victim against their consent, it could not be false imprisonment. This suggests that if you were with the accuser, and their presence was voluntary without you restraining or constraining them, that’s not false imprisonment. You need an experienced lawyer to build a strong defense if you did not confine the plaintiff by using force or deceit.

Parental Rights

Every parent has the jurisdiction to control their child and instill discipline in ways such as imposing timeouts or grounding them. It is perfectly legal to restrain your child against their consent as long as they don’t experience needless suffering or incur injuries. The court cannot convict you for falsely imprisoning your child if you are not acting with any malicious or unlawful intent.

You Made A Citizen’s Arrest

Another common defense you could use is you secured a citizen's arrest. Often there is a misconception about this, but if you made a lawful citizen’s arrest, the court cannot and should not convict you. Under California law, you can confine another person if you catch them committing a crime like a burglary or battery.

Shopkeeper's/ Store Owners Privilege

Per California law, shopkeepers and store owners are allowed to detain, confine, or restrain someone else who is found shoplifting according to California Penal Code 459.5 PC. You, as a store owner, have the privilege to restrain the suspect and investigate their activities. However, the law requires you to investigate the matter in a sensible manner and for a reasonable time. The court, though, can determine reasonableness by storekeepers on a case by case basis.

You Acted in Self-defense

Under California law, you are allowed to use proportional physical when defending yourself from impending possible harm. You, however, must prove to the court that there was a reasonable belief that you were about to sustain bodily injury. You could, for example, defend yourself from a violent spouse if you reasonably believe that they are about to inflict bodily injury to you by locking them in the house from outside. If your spouse press charges against you for false imprisonment, your lawyer can prove to the court that the victim lied, and you were defending yourself from violence.

The Accuser Consented to Your Acts

Lack of consent is an element the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt in court when facing false imprisonment charges. If the accuser consented to the confinement, detainment, or restraint, your criminal lawyer can defend you in court and have the case dismissed. Also, if the accuser consented to any of these acts, the court cannot convict you for false imprisonment. These acts include:

  • Restraining someone else during a self-defense session
  • Running a commercial “escape room” game
  • Engaging in consensual bondage

You carry the burden to prove that the plaintiff consented to the detainment. Pieces of evidence you can to prove consent are:

  • Eyewitness testimony
  • Written communications like email and text messages
  • Audio and video recordings

You Had Legal Authority to Restrain the Plaintiff

The court cannot convict you for false imprisonment if you are legally allowed to restrain someone else. Usually, persons with the legal authority to detain other persons are law enforcement persons and police officers. This means if you fall under the category of police officers, guards, or any other law enforcement officer, you can argue in court using this defense.

Crimes You Can Get Charged In Lieu Of or Adding to California PC 236

These are that offenses the prosecution could choose to charge you in place of or adding to your PC 236 charge. The judge also has the jurisdiction to lower and add these charges determined on a case by case basis. Crimes related to California false imprisonment are:

California PC 278: Child Abduction Law

Per California PC 278, child abduction, also called child-stealing, occurs when you maliciously take or confine a child from their legal custodian/ guardian when you have zero custodial rights over the said child. When you don’t have custodial rights over a child means you have no obligation to control or take physical care of the child. Persons who right of custody include:

  1. One who has received custodian rights through a court order
  2. The child’s parent given that the court has not revoked or restricted their right of custody

Under child abduction laws in California, you don’t have to move the child or make them go somewhere. Instead, you only have to hide the child from their guardian or detain them. PC 278 makes child-stealing a wobbler. The prosecution has the jurisdiction to charge you either with a misdemeanor or felony child abduction.

If the jury convicts you for a misdemeanor crime, you could serve time in the county jail for not more than one year or pay a fine not exceeding $1,000. If the judge convicts you for felony child abduction, you could serve time in state prison for a period not exceeding four years or pay a fine of an amount not exceeding $1,000. Also, the court could order you to compensate the prosecution agency for costs incurred to track down the abducted child.

California PC Section 210.5: False Imprisonment to Protect from Arrest

You are guilty of false imprisonment of a hostage per California PC section 210.5 if you use menace or violence to imprison another person to protect yourself from arrest unlawfully. To prove that you violated Penal Code 210.5 the prosecution must reveal that:

  • You faced an impending arrest
  • You detained, confined, or restrained someone else by threat or force
  • You intended to protect yourself from an imminent arrest by restricting someone else
  • You made your victim go or stay somewhere against their consent
  • Your act of false imprisonment increased the risk of psychological or physical harm to the victim you used as a shield

California PC Sections 207, 208, 209, and 209.5: Kidnapping

Per California PC 207, you commit kidnapping when you move someone else to another place against their will by using fear or force. The law considers moving the victim even the shortest distance as kidnapping. Under PC 207, 208, 209, and 209.5, confinement, the threat of violence, or actual violence are necessary elements of the crime that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt before the judge can convict you. Use of fear or force means that you kidnapped the victim by force or threatened to cause bodily harm to them if they refused to move.

The court can enhance your charges to aggravated kidnapping if you move someone else by using fraud, fear, or force and:

  • You kidnap someone else when committing the crime of carjacking
  • The victim incurs physical injuries or dies
  • You hold the victim for ransom
  • The victim is a minor below the age of 14
  • When you demand ransom to release the kidnapping victim

Aggravated kidnapping attracts severe charges in California, where you could serve time in state prison for five, eight, or 11 years if the kidnapping victim were at the age of 14 during the crime commission. The judge could sentence you to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole is you kidnapped somebody for:

  • A reward
  • A ransom
  • Extortion as detailed under PC 518
  • Robbery as detailed under PC 211
  • Various sex crimes like unlawful sodomy (PC 286), forced oral sex (PC section 288a), and lewd acts with a child (PC 288)

Contact a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

False imprisonment charges can compromise your career, reputation, savings, and even worse, prevent you from seeing your family or loved ones should you get sentenced to prison. Hiring a competent criminal defense attorney is essential to increase the chances of your acquittal.

The team at Leah Legal consists of criminal lawyers with a proven track record and many years’ experience with defending clients around Los Angeles against false imprisonment charges. Solid defense, representation in court, and thorough research are what our attorneys zero in on until the court dismisses or reduces your sentencing. To speak with a defense lawyer, call 818-484-1100. You can ring us anytime, and you will get first-class legal counsel.