Few experiences are as unnerving as knowing you’re under investigation for a serious criminal offense. Conviction can expose you to serious penalties like stiff fines and jail or prison custody and disrupt every aspect of your life from family relationships, career goals and employment to aspirations of citizenship and dreams of attending college or graduate school.

As a former California prosecutor, I gained extensive experience with the strategies and litigation tactics prosecutors employ—which I now use on behalf of my clients. Below is what you need to know about false imprisonment charges. If you have any questions after reading it, I encourage you to contact me for a free consultation.

What the Law Says

False imprisonment under California Penal Code Section 236 involves detaining, restraining or confining someone without his or her consent. To be clear, this offense does not refer specifically to the type of “false imprisonment” that many think of in lay terms in which the victim is literally imprisoned. It’s enough that his or her movement is restrained or limited or that you force someone to go somewhere that they don’t wish to go. The act of forcing someone to stay by grabbing his or her arm can be sufficient to constitute false imprisonment.

Consequences of Convinction

False imprisonment is what’s known as a “wobbler” under California law, meaning that you may be charged with either a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the unique facts of your case.

The prosecutor will seek a conviction for a felony where “violence” is used to detain or restrain the complaining witness. In this context, violence does not necessarily need to involve physical injury. While the use of force is a fact that the prosecutor must establish, the felony type of false imprisonment typically involves the use of more force than necessary to impose the detention. Often the additional force has nothing to do with causing pain or injury. Simply grabbing a person’s arm so that he or she cannot leave would not typically be enough force to support a felony, but the subsequent act of putting the arm behind his or her back might be, even if it does not cause injury or pain.

The use of “menace” or “fraud" or "deceit” to facilitate false imprisonment may also form the basis of a felony charge. Menace in this context typically entails using verbal threats or a weapon to carry out the false imprisonment. Fraud/deceit is less often the means used to impose a detention against someone’s will, but can be relevant in a situation like a child custody dispute where the child is detained.

Defense Strategies

False imprisonment is a very serious criminal offense that can result in incarceration for a maximum of 1 year in the county jail for a misdemeanor offense or 16 months in state prison or county jail for a felony conviction. The fines are also substantial, with a maximum fine of $1,000 for a misdemeanor and $10,000 for a felony, in addition to other court-imposed fees as authorized by law.

Even if the prosecutor charges the case as a felony, the jury can determine that the evidence does not amount to felony behavior. I’m often able to negotiate felony false imprisonment charges down to a misdemeanor charge where the prosecutor has overcharged the case. I successfully employ a number of defenses against false imprisonment charges, including:

  • Consent: Sometimes the person alleging false imprisonment will initially consent to accompany you to a place but then has a change of heart. This often happens in sexual type false imprisonment situations. In these scenarios, the complaining witness must effectively communicate his or her withdrawal of consent in order for the prosecution to successfully allege false imprisonment.
  • Physical Duress: This defense is possible when you restrain someone because a third party is threatening you or using force to make you restrain the complaining witness. This is common in gang cases where someone fears retaliation by the gang if they don’t go along with the gang’s plan.
  • Self Defense: This defense can be effective if you restrain someone to protect yourself or a third party. I may be able to effectively assert self-defense or defense of others in order to avoid a conviction for false imprisonment.
  • Legitimate Parental Discipline: A parent has a legitimate right to confine children to their room, put them in time out or confine them to a corner. This type of parental discipline does not typically provide a basis for false imprisonment charges.
  • Lack of Evidence: Allegations of false imprisonment may be based on a biased agenda by a former spouse or domestic partner to gain an advantage in civil litigation or out of anger or jealousy. I can attack the evidence through intensive investigation and carefully drafted motions to expose such specious allegations.

False imprisonment charges can have a devastating impact on your future. If you’re accused or have been charged, do not discuss your case with law enforcement.  If the police try to talk to you, request to leave the premises. If they don’t grant your request, refuse to cooperate until you contact an experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney.

I’ve successfully defended many clients in and around San Diego against serious felonies like false imprisonment. If you have any questions or need a legal opinion, I invite you to schedule a free case evaluation.