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False Imprisonment Defined

Dena Standley | January 06, 2023

Summary: False imprisonment occurs when a person restrains someone else in a confined area without their consent. If you believe you are a victim of false imprisonment, your case must meet the following three qualifications: 1) you did not give consent, 2) the person restraining you did so without any legal justification, and 3) the person restraining you did so intentionally.

False imprisonment can best be explained using a case that rocked the nation in 2013 concerning Ariel Castro. He had abducted three women on separate occasions and held them captive in his home for eleven years. Mr. Castro offered each lady a ride and, instead of taking them to their destination, took them to his house and prevented them from leaving. These women were victims of false imprisonment.

False imprisonment, also known as unlawful imprisonment in the first degree, typically occurs when a person intentionally restrains another person from free movement or leaving a particular location without consent. The movement can be restricted in a vehicle, building, street, or any other place where a person is held against their will.

In this article, SoloSuit will give you more information on false imprisonment by explaining the situations that qualify as false imprisonment, the elements required, and the viable defenses.

Situations that qualify as false imprisonment

Not all situations can be deemed false imprisonment. Even if you believe you were confined, the court must determine if the belief was reasonable. The judge must also determine what a reasonable individual would do or believe if in the same predicament. The following are situations that qualify as false imprisonment:

  • Taking someone hostage during a robbery
  • Locking an individual in a room without their consent
  • Coercing someone to stay in a particular place because you have something of value that belongs to them
  • Physically detaining an individual and preventing them from leaving
  • Detaining an employee for an unreasonable length of time based on suspicion that a crime was committed
  • Medicating an individual without their consent, with the plan to restrain them

Situations that do not qualify as false imprisonment

In other circumstances, you may believe that you have been falsely imprisoned, but the situation fails to qualify as false imprisonment by the law’s standard. The following situations do not qualify as false imprisonment:

  • Being asked not to leave, but the door is left open for you to leave at any time
  • A person grabbing your clothing, but you can free yourself without fear
  • A shop owner detaining you for a short period based on suspicion that you stole something

Elements required in a false imprisonment case

The following three elements must be present to prove false imprisonment as a tort (personal injury claim) in a civil lawsuit. Notably, your case cannot succeed in court if one element is missing.

1. Detention without your consent

If you make a false imprisonment claim, you must believe you were confined based on the other person's actions. The court will consider if another reasonable person would believe they were being detained. This step will help to determine if your belief was reasonable.

2. Unlawful detention

The person who restrained you must not have a legal justification to hold you against your will.

3. Wilful detention

The person detaining you must do it wilfully or intentionally. Accidentally being locked in a room when the other person is on the other side doesn't qualify as false imprisonment. Wilful detention entails preventing a person from leaving through intimidation or force.

Let's look at a real-life example of false imprisonment that happened in Louisiana.

Example: A pharmacist suspicious of a patient's prescription (despite the doctor calling earlier about it) told her to wait for her medication but instead called the police. The law enforcement officer arrested the patient, and while in jail, they confirmed the prescription was legitimate. Afterward, the patient sued the pharmacy and its employees and received $20,000 in damages. However, an appellate court reversed the judgment saying that the three elements of false imprisonment were not met.

Viable defenses to false imprisonment

A defense against false imprisonment often aims to eliminate one or all the three elements above. For instance, if you gave consent, whether implied or actual, your case may be dismissed. The following are other defenses a person can use to justify imprisonment:

  • Citizen’s arrest: A person who's not a law enforcement officer makes a citizen's arrest when another person commits or attempts to commit a crime.

  • Shopkeeper's privilege: Most states allow shop owners to detain individuals suspected of a crime to verify their identity, confirm the purchase of an item, or as they wait for the police.

  • Police privilege: All states give police officers the right to detain a person for probable cause. A person can be detained if they have engaged in wrongdoing or are suspected of committing a crime.

Creditors cannot falsely imprison you for debt

In America, it is against the law for a creditor or a collection agency to detain you due to an outstanding debt. You can sue them for false imprisonment if the three elements discussed above are met.

If you have debt collectors threatening to arrest you for owing a debt, you have a strong defense if the matter goes to court. Fortunately, SoloSuit is here to help you fight off debt collectors in and out of court.

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