False Imprisonment

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At common law, false imprisonment was a misdemeanor and a tort. False imprisonment occurs when the perpetrator restraints a person in a bounded area without justification or consent.[1] Generally, false imprisonment differs from kidnapping in that kidnapping requires the transportation of a victim (i.e. asportation). In some jurisdictions, if the false imprisonment is secret, the jurisdictions treat it the same as kidnapping.[2]

Model Penal Code

Model Penal Code section 212.3 addresses false imprisonment. It states that "a person commits a misdemeanor if he knowingly restrains another unlawfully so as to interfere substantially with his liberty."[3]

Variation by Jurisdiction


In Maryland, there is no separate article for false imprisonment in its criminal code. Instead, false imprisonment is lesser offenses included under kidnapping. It is also a common law crime that has been dealt with in case law.[4]


The California Penal Code defines false imprisonment as the unlawful violation of the personal liberty of another. The punishment for this crime is a fine for up to $1,000 USD and/or imprisonment in county or state prison for up to one year.[5] The charge of human trafficking is related to and constitutes a type of false imprisonment. The punishment for human trafficking is imprisonment from three to eight years, depending on the age of the trafficking victim.[6]

Common Defenses

A common defense to the charge of false imprisonment is that the imprisonment was justified or lawful. Generally, restraining a person for the purposes of preventing him or her inflicting harm on others may be a lawful defense. However, the determination of whether the restraint is lawful depends on the specific circumstances of the situation. The consent of the victim to imprisonment is also a defense, provided that such consent was not obtained through coercion or force. Furthermore, a bona fide attempt to prevent a person from committing suicide by restraint does not constitute false imprisonment.[7]

Foreign Jurisdictions


The German Penal Code does not explicitly contain an article that uses the term "false imprisonment." However, the Code does refer to related acts such as kidnapping, abduction, and deprivation of liberty.[8]


Kenya, like Germany, does not have a provision in its Penal Code that specifically addresses false imprisonment. It does, however, have a section on the related crime of kidnapping.[9]

See Crimes



  1. Black's Law Dictionary, 9th edition (2009)
  2. Black's Law Dictionary, 9th edition (2009)
  3. Model Penal Code, § 212.3 (2001)
  4. For an example, see State v. State 513 A.2d 870 (1986)
  5. CA Penal Code, Title 8, Chapter 8, § 237 (2008)
  6. CA Penal Code, Title 8, Chapter 8, § 236.1 (2008)
  7. William Lindsley, False Imprisonment Defenses- Corpus Juris Secundum, Dec. 2010
  8. http://www.iuscomp.org/gla/statutes/StGB.htm#239
  9. http://www.kenyalaw.org/Downloads/Acts/Penal%20Code%20Cap%2063(%202009Final%20Final).pdf