False imprisonment refers to the illegal restraint of an individual against her will by somebody without legal authority or explanation. As an example, an armed bank thief shouts at the customers to get down on the floor, making threats that he/she will shoot them if they will attempt to escape. Knowing that they will be killed if they attempt to leave, they are held against their will. Thus, these captive bank customers can file charges and claim damages against the bank thief. The bank thief will be sued with the crime of false imprisonment. Policemen can also be charged with false imprisonment if they go beyond their authority like detaining somebody without due justification.
Any person, who purposely limits the freedom of movement of an individual with his /her permission and without legal justification, may be held responsible for false imprisonment, which is a both civil and criminal act. It can happen in a room, in a moving vehicle, or on the streets, as long as the person is limited or unable to move freely against his/her will.
In the same way, “false arrest” refers to a situation somebody arrests another person without legal authority to do such act and this act becomes false imprisonment once the person “arrested” is taken into custody.
Elements of False Imprisonment Claim
All states have their false imprisonment laws to safeguard people from illegal detention or confinement. To show that a false imprisonment case happens, here are the essential elements that must be present:
- There must be a willful detention;
- That the detention must be without permission or consent; and
- That the detention is illegal or unlawful.
False imprisonment comes in many forms which include the threat or use of authority that detains you against your will or without permission. Physical force is usually used but it is not needed. Furthermore, restraining a person may be enforced by physical hindrances like being locked in a vehicle, or through unreasonable duress like holding somebody “within the bounds of a fixed area” for a long duration period of time.
The person who is claiming false imprisonment must have reasonably determined that he/she is being confined or detained. The court will probe whether his/her belief is reasonable by knowing what can be a reasonable prudent individual under the same circumstances will do or think.
Furthermore, the individual who does the detention or confinement of another individual must have intended to detain or confine, and does not have the privilege to do so, like the shopkeeper who is investigating with permission a shoplifting incident in a store or civilians who witness the felony.
Some samples of false imprisonment include:
- An individual holding something very valuable to another individual with the intention of making the other person remain in a fixed place, and without the permission or consent of the person whose valuables are held;
- An individual taking the other person without his/her permission or consent, and holding them so they cannot leave or escape;
- An individual locking somebody in a room without his/her consent or permission;
- An employer detaining somebody for inquiry for unreasonable duration of time, for suspected theft;
- A security guard or a store owner who confines somebody for unreasonable duration of time basing on the way you dress or look;
- Nursing home staff who is treating a patient without his/her permission under the physical or emotional threat
The following are things that do not comprise false imprisonment:
- An individual who takes your arm but you are aware and know that you can free yourself from his/her grip without the fear of reprisal;
- A storekeeper who confines you for a reasonable duration of time for inquiry based on potentially cause, as if he/she saw that you take a hidden item out of the store without paying for it
- Any claim that you are falsely confined or held because you were discovered innocent of a crime
- An individual who closes the front door and asks you not to leave, but you know you can leave through an open door
Defenses to False Imprisonment Claims
The defenses to false imprisonment claims usually become a question whether the person who is claiming the imprisonment gives permission, either it is actual or implied, or whether the person who detains somebody has reasonable reasons to justify the imprisonment. Here are the common defenses to false imprisonment case:
An individual who agrees to detention, without duress, force, or fraud, may not be able to claim false imprisonment later. Hence, voluntary permission or consent to detention is usually a defense to false imprisonment.
The police office, in all the states, have the right to detain somebody they have probable cause to believe that he/she is engaged in a wrongful act, or when they believe that a crime is committed.
There are several states that have laws to protect their merchants from false imprisonment claims. These are the laws that permit the merchants to confine retail patrons for a short period of time when they have probable reasons to believe that the person commits retail theft. There are some circumstances where the shopkeeper is restricted to confine a person by requesting an I.D., making reasonable inquiry whether the person bought the item, and/or to detain the person until police officers arrive.
To determine a liability, the court will investigate on whether the actions of the store under the circumstances are reasonable. The guilty shoplifter can still charge for false imprisonment when the detention is unreasonable.
There are certain cases when the individual who is not a law enforcement officer can make a “citizen’s arrest” through calling the police officer when a crime is committed or tried in their presence, even though this type of defense does not mean to give the citizens the rights to take the place of law enforcement.