False imprisonment occurs when a person is detained either without legal authorization or against his or her will. False imprisonment can also take place when someone prevents another person from leaving a vehicle, room, building, or other area. For example, suppose that a man pulls out a gun and threatens to shoot his wife if she leaves their apartment. The man could be found guilty of wrongfully holding his wife against her will.
False imprisonment claims can be raised in civil lawsuits or criminal cases. In a civil suit, a claim may be brought as a tort claim to recover monetary damages. In criminal cases, it is frequently a misdemeanor or felony that can result in jail time or fines.
In most civil false imprisonment suits, the plaintiff has the burden of proving that he or she was unreasonably detained. After the plaintiff establishes each element of the claim, the defendant is required to show that the detention was legally justified. Similarly, in a criminal case, the prosecution must prove each element of false imprisonment, often beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant may then respond or poke holes in the prosecution’s case.
During most detention cases, the detainee is held against his or her will due to coercion, force, or threat. Typically, false imprisonment does not occur if a person consents to being held. For instance, suppose that a police officer asks a man to come down to the police station and answer a few questions. Suppose also that the man is held in a room while the offer questions him. If the man has simply agreed to be held in the room of his own accord, the police officer would not be wrongfully detaining the man.
In some situations, the right to detain a person exists in a limited capacity. For instance, consider a situation in which a store manager suspects a shopper of shoplifting. In most jurisdictions, the manager would have the right to hold the shopper for a reasonable period of time in order to investigate whether shoplifting has occurred. If, however, the manager detains the shopper for an unreasonable period of time, the manager could be charged with false imprisonment.
As a general rule, false imprisonment does not apply to parents or other authority figures who prevent minor children from leaving a room or vehicle. For example, a school teacher would have the right to prevent a child from leaving a classroom during school hours. Once a child becomes an adult, however, a parent no longer has the right to detain the child. Spouses usually do not have the right to detain one another.