False imprisonment is both a felony and a tort[i]. It means the detention of a person in a bounded area without justification or consent. The detention can be either private or governmental. The detention can be imposed by physical barriers or through unreasonable duress on detained person[ii]. When detention is caused by the police, a writ of habeas corpus can be obtained upon proving false imprisonment.
Generally in a case of false imprisonment, an individual’s personal liberty is violated by another[iii]. Thus the definition of false imprisonment as a crime and as a tort are similar. Both as a crime and a tort, the general principles applied to false imprisonment are the same. The only difference being that principles applied in the criminal prosecution of false imprisonment are general laws of criminal jurisprudence.
False imprisonment often involves an element of physical force. But the presence of criminal force is not mandatory to constitute an offense of false imprisonment. A threat of force, a threat of arrest, and a belief that a person’s personal liberty will be violated are sufficient to constitute an offense of false imprisonment[iv].
Aiding and abetting an offense of false imprisonment is punishable. Nominal damages will be awarded to an individual who has suffered no actual damages in consequence to the illegal confinement. In cases where an injured offers proof of injuries suffered, s/he will be compensated with damages for physical injuries, mental suffering, and loss of earnings. Sometimes attorneys’ fees are also awarded as compensation. If a confinement involved malice or violence, then the plaintiff will be entitled to punitive damages. To recover damages for false imprisonment, there must be confinement for a substantial degree and the freedom of movement must be totally restrained. Punishment for false imprisonment includes fine, imprisonment, or both.
False arrest and criminal confinement have been recognized as other forms of false imprisonment. In false arrest an individual who is detained mistakenly believes that a person who had detained him/her has legal authority to conduct an arrest.
[i] Street v. State, 60 Md. App. 573 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1984).
[ii] Scofield v. Critical Air Medical, 45 Cal. App. 4th 990 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 1996).
[iii] Sepulveda v. Hawn, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11373 (E.D. Cal. May 2, 2002).
[iv] People v. Grant, 8 Cal. App. 4th 1105 (Cal. App. 5th Dist. 1992).