False Imprisonment Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of False Imprisonment, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is False Imprisonment?

n. Holding a person prisoner in a confined space or through physical restraint, denying freedom of movement. Examples include being locked in a car that is driven without allowing the opportunity to get out of the car, being tied to a chair, or locked in a closet. False imprisonment may follow a false arrest, but is most similar to a kidnapping. If proven, false imprisonment is almost always the basis for a lawsuit for damages.

History and Meaning of False Imprisonment

False imprisonment is a tort, a legal term that describes when one person intentionally restricts another person's freedom of movement without legal authority, justification or the consent of the other individual. The elements of the claim are that the defendant intentionally confined the plaintiff, that the plaintiff was harmed by the confinement, and that the confinement was unlawful. The confinement may be physical or virtual, such as confinement by holding back physical documents or technical barriers.

The right to be free from false imprisonment has long been recognized in Western legal systems. English common law developed the writ of habeas corpus, which allowed individuals to challenge their detention by the state without legal justification. False imprisonment is a form of false arrest, distinguished by the duration of confinement. False imprisonment can last for seconds, while false arrest generally means a lengthier detention. In either case, the detention must be wrongful and legally invalid.

Examples of False Imprisonment

  1. A security guard detains a shopper without justification or proof of shoplifting until the police arrive.
  2. A landlord locks the tenant in the apartment to enforce payment of rent.
  3. A spouse restrains the other spouse from leaving their home during an argument.
  4. An employee prevents a co-worker from leaving the office by physically blocking the door.
  5. A restaurant owner locks the doors to keep customers from leaving until they pay their bills.

Legal Terms Similar to False Imprisonment

  • Kidnapping: the crime of forcibly or fraudulently abducting someone and holding them captive.
  • Malicious Prosecution: a common law intentional tort, where the plaintiff claims that the defendant has wrongly prosecuted the plaintiff on a criminal charge.
  • Assault: an act that incites fear in someone of imminent bodily harm, usually coupled with some physical act use of force.
  • Battery: Physical contact with a person that is offensive and illegal when carried out in the absence of consent.