What Is False Imprisonment?

The law forbids false imprisonment of another person. False imprisonment occurs when a person intentionally restrains another person without their consent or without legal authority to restrain them. A conviction can carry severe penalties depending on the circumstances of an act of false imprisonment. However, people charged with false imprisonment may have defenses available to contest the state’s case and secure a dismissal, acquittal, or reduction in charges. Retaining a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can give a defendant facing false imprisonment charges a better chance of obtaining a favorable resolution to their case.

What Constitutes False Imprisonment?

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False imprisonment involves the willful or knowing detention of a person without their consent or legal authority. A person may falsely imprison another or commit false imprisonment by instigating someone else to falsely imprison a person, such as by giving knowingly false information to law enforcement that leads officers to arrest someone.

Examples of conduct that can constitute false imprisonment include:

  • Using the threat of force or injury to prevent someone from leaving
  • Locking someone in a building, room, or vehicle with the intent to restrict their freedom of movement
  • Grabbing and holding a person to prevent them from moving or leaving
  • A lawful detention that extends for an unreasonable amount of time without justification, such as a storekeeper holding a suspected shoplifter for an unreasonably long period.

False Imprisonment in Texas

Under the Texas Penal Code, false imprisonment falls under the statutory offense of “unlawful restraint.” The unlawful restraint statute makes it illegal to intentionally or knowingly restrain another person without lawful authority. The code defines restraining a person as restricting their movements without consent to interfere with their liberty or freedom of movement, either by moving the person from one place to another or confining the person. Restraint occurs “without consent” when accomplished by force/intimidation/deception, or by any means with a victim under 14 or suffering from incompetency whose parent/guardian has not consented to the movement/confinement or with a child aged 14, 15, or 16 taken out of state and outside a 120-mile radius of the child’s residence without the consent of the child’s parent or guardian.

Penalties for a False Imprisonment Conviction

The grading of a charge of unlawful restraint in Texas depends on whether the offense involves aggravating factors. By default, unlawful restraint constitutes a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a fine of $4,000. However, unlawful restraint becomes a state jail felony if the victim of the offense was a child under 17, with a conviction carrying a sentence of 180 days to two years in state jail and a maximum fine of $10,000.

Unlawful restraint constitutes a third-degree felony offense if the defendant recklessly exposed the victim to a substantial risk of severe injury, knowingly restrained a public servant lawfully discharging their duties or retaliating against the servant for the exercise of their duties, or committed the offense while in custody or committed to a civil commitment facility. A third-degree felony conviction carries a sentence of two to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.

However, unlawful restraint becomes a second-degree felony if the defendant knowingly restrains a peace officer or judge during the discharge of their duties or to retaliate against the peace officer or judge for the performance of their duties. A second-degree felony conviction carries a sentence of two to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

A false imprisonment conviction may also have long-term consequences, including social stigma from a criminal record that can make obtaining housing, employment, or other opportunities challenging.

Defenses to a False Imprisonment Charge

A person charged with false imprisonment/unlawful restraint in Texas may have various defenses to their charges. Common defenses include:

  • The alleged victim consented to being restrained.
  • The alleged victim was a child under 14 related to the defendant, and the defendant intended to assume lawful control of the child.
  • The defendant intended to effect a lawful arrest or detention of a person.
  • The alleged victim was a child aged 14, 15, or 16, the defendant did not restrain the child by force/intimidation/deception, and the defendant was not more than three years older than the child.
  • The defendant did not restrain the alleged victim’s freedom of movement; for example, the defendant did not use force or threat of force to restrain the victim or did not lock the victim in a room, building, or vehicle.

Other potential defenses to charges of unlawful restraint include mistaken identity and alibi, which argue that another individual committed the unlawful restraint.

How Can an Attorney Help You Face False Imprisonment Charges?

Hiring experienced legal counsel can help you pursue a favorable resolution to false imprisonment charges in Texas. An attorney can assist you with facing your charges by thoroughly investigating the case to obtain all available evidence supporting your defense. A lawyer can review the facts to identify potential defenses available to you, such as proving consent or other statutory affirmative defenses. Your counsel can contest the state’s case at every step, including moving to exclude the prosecution’s evidence when obtained in violation of your civil/constitutional rights or inadmissible under the rules of evidence, or seeking to reduce/dismiss your charges for lack of evidence. Where appropriate, your attorney can pursue a plea agreement that ensures you avoid the harshest consequences of a conviction. When you choose to fight your charges at trial, an experienced criminal defense lawyer can present a compelling defense to argue for reasonable doubt as to your guilt.

Contact the Law Office of Case J. Darwin to Get Experienced Legal Help

After getting arrested and charged with false imprisonment, you need knowledgeable, dedicated legal representation to help you fight your charges and protect your rights, reputation, and future. Contact the Law Office of Case J. Darwin today for a free, confidential consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss your legal options for resolving your false imprisonment charges.


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