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False Imprisonment Laws in California – Penal Code 236-237

Posted by Philip Israels | May 21, 2019

What is False Imprisonment in California?

The crime of “false imprisonment” is described under California Penal Code Section 236. Criminal charges of false imprisonment could be filed against you if you unlawfully deprive another person of their personal liberty. In other words, if you intentionally detain someone and not allow them to leave when they want, it's considered false imprisonment.

Penal Code 236 false imprisonment is a similar law to kidnapping defined under California Penal Code Section 207, but a kidnapping charge requires you to actually move another person some distance. In situations where another person is just held or detained against their will, it's false imprisonment. There is no requirement the alleged victim is moved any amount of distance or to another location.

A common example of false imprisonment charges in Los Angeles County includes domestic violence incidents. Perhaps during an argument, a husband grabs his wife's wrist and doesn't allow her to leave the house when she wants.  Yet another example includes a situation can be found in a situation where a passenger in a car gets involved in an argument with the driver and tells them to pull over and let them out of the car.  If the driver refuses to let them leave when they want, they could face charges of false imprisonment under Penal Code 236.

It's important to note that charges of false imprisonment can be filed against you if the confinement, detention, or restraint of the alleged victim only last for a short amount of time. While it's true false imprisonment is not on the same level of kidnapping in terms or legal penalties, a conviction can still lead to harsh consequences.

California Penal Code 237 establishes the potential legal penalties for false imprisonment, which makes it a “wobbler” offense, meaning the case can be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony crime. The prosecutors decision on how to file the case is typically based on the specific facts and circumstances of the incident and your criminal history.

If you have been accused of false imprisonment, contact our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers to review the details of your case and legal options. Don't make any statements to law enforcement.

Legal Definition of False Imprisonment in California

Under California Penal Code 236 PC, false imprisonment is defined as an unlawful violation of the personal liberty of another person. Violating another person's liberty is described as any sustained restriction using violence, duress, fraud, deceit, or threats of injury under a situation where the alleged victim has a reasonable belief you can carry out the threat.

In order for the prosecutor to convict you of misdemeanor false imprisonment charges under PC 236, they must be able to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, certain “elements of the crime.” The elements of misdemeanor false imprisonment are covered under CALCRIM 1242 Jury Instructions, and include the following:

  • You intentionally and unlawfully detained, restrained, or confined another person
  • Your act made the individual stay or go somewhere against their will
  • The victim did not give consent

In order for the prosecutor to convict you of felony imprisonment charges under PC 236, they must be able to prove all the elements of the crimes listed under CALCRIM 1240 Jury Instructions, which include the following elements:

  • You intentionally and unlawfully detained, restrained, or confined another person, by violence or menace
  • Your act made the individual stay or go somewhere against their will, without consent
  • Violence using physical force greater than the force necessary to restrain someone, or
  • Menace using verbal or physical threats of harm, express or implied

It should be noted false imprisonment does not require the alleged victim being imprisoned be aware they are being restrained, confined, or detained.

Legal Penalties for PC 236

Penal Code 236 is typically a misdemeanor crime. If convicted, you could face up to one year in a county jail and a $1,000 fine. As described above, you could face felony charges of false imprisonment if violence, menace, fraud, or deceit was used in the restraint.

If convicted of felony false imprisonment, you will be facing up to three years in a California state prison and a $10,000 fine. If you victim was elderly or a dependent, your penalty could increase to up to four years.

If the false imprisonment was to benefit a criminal street gang, you could face a 15 year to life enhancement under California Penal Code 186.22 PC. If you used a gun in the false imprisonment, 10 years could be added to your sentence. If gun was discharged, 25 years could be added to your sentence.

Related Offenses

California Penal Code Section 207, 208 – Kidnapping
California Penal Code Section 210.5 – False Imprisonment of Hostage
California Penal Code Section 278 – Child Abduction

Legal Defenses for PC 236 False Imprisonment

Potential legal defenses against charges of false imprisonment will first require a close examination of the specific details of your case by our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers. However, the most common defenses include the following:

Consent – The alleged victim was there voluntarily. If our lawyers can show you didn't force the victim to stay and they were not restrained at the location against their will, you should be able to avoid a false imprisonment conviction.

Good Faith – In some cases, it might be possible to show the restraint was due to a reasonable belief the victim might endanger themselves or someone else. For example, perhaps the victim made credible statements of committing suicide or harming other people.

Self Defense – In certain situations, our lawyers may be able to prove the restraint of the victim was simply an act of self defense or you were defending another person. California law allows you to use proportional force while defending yourself or others, if you have a reasonable belief you are about to sustain bodily harm.

If you have been accused of false imprisonment under California Penal Code Section Section 236, contact us to take a close review at all the details surrounding your case.

We have a track record of success and can develop a solid defense strategy to obtain the possible outcome on your case. The consequences of a conviction can be life-altering. Let our lawyers evaluate your situation and provide you with some legal guidance moving forward. We offer a free case evaluation.

About the Author

Philip Israels

Phil Israels was raised in California's Central Valley where he still has family. After graduating from the University of California at Berkeley where he was a member for Zeta Beta Tau fraternity and studied Economics, he continued his education...

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