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Wrongful Conviction

What Is Wrongful Imprisonment?

Wrongful imprisonment may also be referred to as false imprisonment. By either name, the term refers to when a person forcibly restrains another against their will, with a risk of being seriously injured or killed. False imprisonment is a common-law felony, and is an intentional tort. Anyone who intentionally restricts another person from any kind of movement or freedom without their consent could be found liable for false imprisonment.

Some jurisdictions state that the victim cannot have a reasonable means of escape, in order for false imprisonment to occur. Additionally, acts of omission could also form the basis for false imprisonment. An example of this would be intentionally failing to unlock a door if a person is trapped inside.

How Is Wrongful Imprisonment Defined as an Intentional Tort?

Wrongful imprisonment is an intentional tort, but it can also be a crime. This means that wrongful imprisonment could be considered both a civil personal injury offense, as well as a criminal charge. Defined as an intentional tort, wrongful imprisonment is the volitional act, done with the requisite intent, of confining the plaintiff to a specific area without their consent. This wrongful act causes the plaintiff some kind of harm, whether physical, psychological, or both. Wrongful imprisonment charges can vary depending on the harm caused to the imprisoned party.

The criminal act of wrongful imprisonment involves similar elements to that of the intentional tort of wrongful imprisonment. Additionally, wrongful imprisonment can even become a felony if the court determines that your false imprisonment involved violence, deceit, or fraud. In such cases you could face felony charges of up to three years in prison.

However, typically wrongful imprisonment is a misdemeanor crime which carries penalties of up to a year in prison, a $1,000.00 fine, or both. Penalties may vary depending on state laws, as well as the defendant's background (punishments may be more severe for repeat offenders).

What Are the Elements for Wrongful Imprisonment?

While a person may think of a jail or prison cell when hearing the term wrongful imprisonment, false imprisonment generally has nothing to do with incarceration or police authorities. As such, any common citizen could be guilty of false imprisonment of another. All states have their own laws regarding false imprisonment charges, protecting people from unlawful confinement.

In order for a victim to bring a civil suit for a false imprisonment claim there are several elements that must be proved:

  • Said any words or committed any acts with the intent to confine the victim;
  • The victim was actually confined for some time;
  • The victim's detention was was unlawful and unwilling; and
  • The victim was aware that they were being confined.

Of these elements of proof, the last one is especially important. The plaintiff must be aware of their confinement. If they are asleep when confined and are thus unaware of the situation, the defendant likely would not be found guilty of false imprisonment.

What Are Some Examples of False Imprisonment?

Some examples of wrongful imprisonment include making threats, or using force or authority to confine someone against their will. Typically, physical force is used but is not required to satisfy the first element of false imprisonment.

To satisfy the second element, the plaintiff must be aware of the confinement; meaning, they must have a reasonable belief that they were confined to a space. An example of this would be an employee that was locked in their office by their boss for three hours. However, suppose that the employee was unaware that they were locked in and therefore not free to leave the office. This confinement would not be considered wrongful imprisonment, because the employee was unaware of the confinement.

Additionally, the defendant must not have the right to confine the plaintiff. What this means is that a legal arrest by the police would not count as false imprisonment.

Some other examples of false imprisonment could include the defendant:

  • Keeping a possession of the plaintiff's, which forces the plaintiff to stay in a certain place;
  • Physically restraining or holding the plaintiff so that they cannot leave;
  • Medicating the plaintiff without their permission, rendering the plaintiff unable to leave on their volition; and/or
  • Detaining the plaintiff in order to question them without having the proper authority to do so.

Specific examples of false imprisonment include, but are not limited to:

  • A person locking someone in a room without their permission to do so;
  • A person holding someone down in such a way that they cannot move;
  • Grabbing someone; and/or
  • A security guard detaining a person for an unreasonable amount of time.

Various other incidents and circumstances may be considered wrongful imprisonment. If you are unsure of whether a particular incident was wrongful imprisonment, you may need to contact a lawyer for advice and guidance. An attorney can inform you of your rights under the laws of your state.

What Damages are Available in a Wrongful Imprisonment Lawsuit?

A victim of wrongful imprisonment may file a lawsuit in order to recover damages, typically including a monetary compensation award for any injuries or suffering the plaintiff experienced due to the confinement. Compensatory damages are generally intended to reimburse the plaintiff for quantifiable damages and losses. Examples of these damages include:

  • Medical costs;
  • Hospital costs;
  • Property damage;
  • Time missed from work because of the incident; and/or
  • Therapy costs, whether physical or mental.

In especially serious wrongful imprisonment cases, the defendant will likely face criminal charges in addition to any civil liability that they have incurred.

The amount of damages awarded to the victim may vary on many factors. These include the individual facts and circumstances surrounding each case, the severity of the wrongful imprisonment, and state/local laws.

Defenses to False Imprisonment

Showing that the victim cannot prove one of the elements is one way to defend against a claim or charge of false imprisonment. For example, the victim consented to the detention or the accused had legal authority to detain them.

Officers following orders of a superior officer may not be a complete defense but such an excuse may decrease the damages awarded to the victim.

  • Legal Arrest: The accused, such as a police officer, may have had legal authority like a warrant or probable cause to confine the person. In some situations, a civilian may make a “citizen's arrest.”
  • Shopkeeper's Privilege: Store-owners or agents of a store-owner, like a security guard, may use a reasonable amount of force to detain a suspected thief for a reasonable amount of time to investigate the theft or an attempted theft. The store-owner must have a reasonable belief that the suspect stole or was attempting to steal their property before detaining the person.
  • Restraining a Minor: If the accused has the permission of the parent or legal guardian of the confined minor and the restraint is reasonable the accused may have such a defense. Parents may also use reasonable restraint against their minor child as long as such actions do not endanger the child. A minor is usually defined as a person under the age of seventeen. However, this defense is not available in all states.

What Happens If I am Found Guilty or At-Fault for False Imprisonment?

In criminal court, a false imprisonment conviction may result in a large fine and the possibility of a jail sentence. Depending on the nature of the imprisonment, such a crime may be a felony.

In civil court, a finding of fault may result in paying a substantial amount of money to the victim. The accused could be prosecuted criminally and sued civilly for the same act of false imprisonment.

Similar Crimes and Torts to False Imprisonment

Other similar legal crimes and torts include kidnapping, false arrest, abuse of process, malicious prosecution, and criminal confinement. Criminal confinement of a child may include actions that endanger the child like leaving them in a locked car alone.

While malicious prosecution may apply to government agents who violate the law in attempting to detain or prosecute a person. False arrest can apply to persons who believed they had authority or good cause to detain a person but discover later that such authority did not exist.

Should I Contact an Attorney about Wrongful Imprisonment?

If you have been wrongfully imprisoned, and have experienced losses or damages because of the incident, you should immediately consult with a personal injury lawyer in your area.

A skilled and knowledgeable attorney can help you strengthen your claim with evidence, and advise you on whether to pursue a lawsuit. Additionally, an experienced personal injury attorney can also inform you of your rights, and represent you in court while working towards a damages award. Also, wrongful imprisonment laws can be subject to change; an experienced attorney can help keep you updated and informed regarding the applicable laws for your case.

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