California False Imprisonment Laws

You may be facing false imprisonment charges in California if someone accused you of holding them against their will. A conviction can mean hefty fines, time behind bars, and other collateral consequences.

California’s false imprisonment laws often relate to other offenses – particularly ones associated with domestic violence. It’s important to protect your rights and consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer if you’ve been charged with false imprisonment or any other crime.

What Is False Imprisonment in California?

California law defines false imprisonment as “the unlawful violation of the personal liberty of another.” It generally means confining someone against their will – physically or by threatening harm.

The California penal code further defines the offense as substantial or sustained restriction of another’s liberty by using any of the following:

  • Force
  • Fear
  • Violence
  • Duress
  • Menace
  • Fraud or deceit
  • Coercion
  • The threat of unlawful injury

The threat of injury can be against the detained person or another person – for example, threatening to hurt someone’s child or spouse.

What Is Considered False Imprisonment?

False imprisonment accusations or charges are common in domestic violence cases. But they can happen in many other scenarios.

Examples of false imprisonment include:

  • Locking someone in a room or closet
  • Blocking the door and not allowing someone to leave
  • Threatening to harm someone if they leave
  • Grabbing someone and preventing them from leaving
  • Forcing someone into a car and taking them somewhere they don’t want to go

The circumstances of the alleged crime will determine how you are charged.

Is False Imprisonment a Felony in California?

In many instances, false imprisonment can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. However, in some cases, you may automatically be charged with a felony.

Misdemeanor False Imprisonment

In order to find a defendant guilty of misdemeanor false imprisonment, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant:

  • Intentionally detained, restrained, or confined the victim; and
  • Made the victim stay or go somewhere against their will.

“Against someone’s will” means without consent. To consent, they must act freely and voluntarily with full knowledge of the act.

Felony False Imprisonment

To prove felony false imprisonment, the prosecutor must establish that the defendant:

  • Intentionally detained, restrained, or confined the victim; or
  • Caused the victim to be restrained; and
  • Used violence or menace; and
  • Made the victim stay or go somewhere against their will.

For purposes of this offense, “violence” means physical force greater than what is reasonably necessary to restrain someone. “Menace” means an express or implied verbal or physical threat of harm.

You could be charged with false imprisonment if you’re also charged with:

If someone accuses you of false imprisonment, you might face consequences other than criminal charges. You can also be sued for false imprisonment in civil court. That means the alleged victim may seek monetary damages from you for physical harm or emotional distress.

And it’s not just criminal defendants who get caught up in false imprisonment allegations. People illegally detained by the police have sued the LAPD for false imprisonment. 

What Are the Penalties for False Imprisonment in California?

The penalties for false imprisonment in California vary depending on how the crime is charged. Certain circumstances could enhance the penalties.

Misdemeanor False Imprisonment 

If you’re charged with misdemeanor false imprisonment, you may face:

  • A fine of up to $1,000; and/or
  • County jail for up to one year.

You may be charged with a misdemeanor unless the alleged crime was committed by violence, menace, fraud, or deceit, in which case it could be charged as a felony. 

Felony False Imprisonment

If you’re charged with felony false imprisonment, you could face:

  • Up to 3 years in county jail; and/or
  • Up to a $1,000 fine.

If the alleged victim was age 65 or older or a person between the ages of 18 and 64 with certain physical or mental limitations, the time in jail could be up to 4 years. 

False Imprisonment of a Hostage

If you’re charged with false imprisonment for the purpose of avoiding arrest or by using a person as a human shield, penalties include up to a $1,000 fine and 3, 5, or 8 years in county jail.

Human trafficking is a separate charge but generally combines false imprisonment with the intent to obtain forced labor or services. 

Human trafficking is a felony in California. If convicted of human trafficking, you could end up in state prison for 5, 8, or 12 years and owe a fine of up to $500,000.

If you’re charged with human trafficking that also involves certain sex crimes, you face 8, 14, or 20 years and a fine of up to $500,000.

What Are the Defenses to a False Imprisonment Charge?

Each case is different, but there are many potential defenses to a false imprisonment charge. A good criminal defense attorney will investigate your arrest and determine the best possible defense strategy for your case. 

Some possible defenses include:

  • Self-defense
  • The defendant had the legal authority to detain the alleged victim
  • The alleged victim was free to leave
  • The alleged victim consented to the detainment
  • The defendant did not use unreasonable force
  • The defendant was misidentified
  • Evidence was obtained illegally
  • Police misconduct
  • The defendant was exercising parental rights
  • The defendant was exercising rights under “shopkeeper’s privilege”

Most of these are self-explanatory except for the last one. Under the “shopkeeper’s privilege,” a merchant, theater owner, or library employee may detain a person temporarily to conduct an investigation if they have probable cause that a person was stealing merchandise, illegally recording a movie, or stealing library materials.

How Can a Criminal Defense Attorney Help With False Imprisonment Charges in California?

If you’re arrested for false imprisonment – or any crime, for that matter – you should contact a reputable criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. 

An experienced criminal defense team will:

  • Be present during police questioning and investigations
  • Analyze all the evidence against you and inform you of your best legal options
  • Develop a strong defense based on the evidence
  • Represent you at all pre-trial proceedings
  • Negotiate with the prosecutor to drop or lessen the charges against you
  • Aggressively defend you in court 

Some people make the mistake of thinking they can handle charges on their own, particularly with domestic abuse charges. It’s always best to seek legal representation to protect your rights.