In California, the crime of False Imprisonment is punished by California Penal Code Sections 236 and 237.
California Penal Code § 236 simply states:
False imprisonment is the unlawful violation of the personal liberty of another.
California Penal Code § 237 sets for the punishment for False Imprisonment and States in relevant part:
(a) False imprisonment is punishable by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment. If the false imprisonment be effected by violence, menace, fraud, or deceit, it shall be punishable by imprisonment in the state prison.
(b) False imprisonment of an elder or dependent adult by use of violence, menace, fraud, or deceit shall be punishable by two, three, or four years in state prison.
False imprisonment is a fairly simple offense that is unfortunately prosecuted in a number of circumstances when the facts do not properly warrant a conviction. The reason for its wide applicability lies in the simplicity in the wording of PC § 236. Essentially, one may be charged under PC § 236 anytime they act without proper authority in a manner preventing another person from doing something they have a right to do. While there must be some confinement, there does not necessarily need to be physical contact between he accused and the victim. For example, simply refusing to drop your wife off during a fight in the car might be sufficient for a conviction of false imprisonment. Any threat of physical harm that would create confinement would suffice as well.
In order to be convicted under this section, the prosecution must show that the defendant (1) created some sort of unlawful detention or restraint of the alleged victim, and (2) that the detention or restraint was exhibited without the alleged victim’s consent.
Unlawful detention or restraint will exist anytime an individual prevents another from freely moving from a confined area without the legal authority to do so. Generally, law enforcement, parental guardians, and shopkeepers suspecting an individual of theft, are the only ones with such authority.
A detention may be valid however if it is done with the consent of the alleged victim. However the alleged victim’s consent will only be valid if it is made knowingly and voluntarily. This means the individual must be of sufficient age to consent given the circumstances and fully knowledgeable of the circumstances of the confinement. Consent to the confinement will be just as easily taken away by simply orally revoking this consent and at that point the individual must be let free to leave.
An individual accused under this section must have the intent to confine the alleged victim as well. If they had a reasonable belief that the alleged victim did not wish to leave or if they did nothing to further confinement once it was made clear that the alleged victim wished to leave, they may not be punished under this section.
Many times it will come down to a “he said, she said” situation where it will be a battle of collateral evidence between the prosecution and the defense. It will take a sizeable amount of evidence to corroborate the claims of both parties. The court will look at the totality of the circumstances including the history of the relationship between the parties to determine the veracity in the claims. The prosecution will need very convincing evidence to meet the burden of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This is why it is very important that you retain an experienced and resourceful attorney with proven investigatory history in unveiling facts to the court that will defeat any evidence the prosecution may attempt to bring against you.
In California, the crime of false imprisonment is a “wobbler” offense meaning it may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The prosecution will have sole discretion in determining how the offense will be charged. Factors considered will include the harm incurred to the victim, the length and manner of the detention, and the criminal history of the accused. A misdemeanor charged under this section may carry up to one year in county jail and a fine of $1000.
Under PC § 237, if the alleged victim is thought to have been detained by violence or menace, this will elevate the charge to a felony and will be punishable by up to 3 years in state prison. California courts have gone on to define “violence” as any force beyond what would be reasonable necessary to detain the victim. This will be a very fact sensitive analysis to determine what would be necessary to detain the victim. If a larger man attempts to detain a very petite woman, any physical contact may be considered sufficiently violent to elevate the offense to a felony. However, in a reversal of roles, the woman may be allowed some level of physical force and still be charged with a misdemeanor under this section. “Menace” is defined by the courts as a verbal or physical threat of any kind. Any threat of serious harm to someone or brandishing of a weapon to prevent an attempt to escape will be a felonious act constituting menace.
Though the courts have gone to great lengths in eliminating ambiguity under this section, the prosecution might sometimes allege the use of violence or menace even when the facts of the case simply to not support such allegations. The force necessary to detain an individual and elevate the offense to a violent felony is subject to interpretation, as is the issue of whether or not the alleged victim truly felt threatened by your conduct to such that the detention was conducted with menace. A statement made in jest, but wrongfully taken as a threat, will not subject an individual to punishment under this section. Also, if the alleged victim knew the threat would not be carried out and was not in actual fear that would prevent them from leaving the premises, this will not constitute menace either. Therefore, it is crucial that your false imprisonment lawyer in San Diego vigorously oppose with convincing evidence any allegations that may suggest the imprisonment was made with violence or menace so as to avoid felony charges and substantially enhanced sentencing.
Given the broad range of sentencing under Penal Code § 236/237, if you have been arrested and charged for false imprisonment, it is imperative that you contact an experienced and skilled criminal defense attorney as soon as possible so that they may advise you on the best avenue to take in ensuring your liberty and rights are protected. The days following your arrest will be a crucial period which should be spent contacting the prosecution and negotiating the charges down, or possibly having the charges dismissed all together. The difference between a felony charge carrying 3 years in state prison and a misdemeanor with a small fine or probation will likely boil down to how well your attorney can articulate to the prosecution the facts specific to your case in proving your conduct does not meet the requisites necessary for a conviction. Attorneys at the Law Office of Marc S. Kohnen have been able help many people through these difficult and delicate matters involving charges under PC § 236/237. If you or a loved one has been arrested and charged with making a criminal or terrorist threat, please feel free to contact the Law Office of Marc S. Kohnen for a complimentary and confidential consultation about your options in this pressing issue.