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What is False Imprisonment

What is False Imprisonment

False imprisonment is a term used for illegal or forceful detention of a person by another person or a group. If a person detains you or any member of your family, against your will and without any legal authority to do so, you can file a case of false imprisonment in a civil court or a criminal court, depending upon the circumstances. In this article, we shall delve deeper into the different types of false imprisonment along with a few examples.
Mukulika Mukherjee
Consider this scenario. You're about to leave your bank after, say, creating a new account, when a group of masked men attack the bank and take the people hostage. They declare that unless they are handed over the cash in the bank, they would not allow anyone to leave and that anyone who attempts to act smart shall pay for it with his life. Now, in a situation like this, you have no other option but to obey the instructions of the armed men and remain within the confines of the bank. In spite of the fact that some of you are in a hurry to leave because of a train to catch or an important meeting to attend, you are helpless! Why? Because you have a potential threat to life.

The above example aptly illustrates false imprisonment. Here the obstacles are more of an emotional nature than being physical obstacles. This is because the main factor that confines the people inside the bank, is the fear of being killed and not the fact that all the exits are locked from within. A false imprisonment is an example of intentional tort, where the term 'tort' is defined by the civil law as an illegal or wrongful act that might have caused physical injury or financial loss to the victim. According to the civil field of law, a victim of false imprisonment is termed as the plaintiff. However, for any case to be recognized in court as that of false imprisonment, there are certain conditions that need to be met, the most important ones being that the boundaries within which the plaintiff was confined was decided by the person who imprisoned him and that the plaintiff was well aware of the fact that he was imprisoned. Irrespective of whether the case is in a civil court or a criminal court, the person who files the case needs to prove that he/she had been subjected to each element of the false imprisonment law.

Types of False Imprisonment

Any type of action that compromises the liberty of the victim, can be termed as false imprisonment. Depending on the nature of "boundary" or restriction imposed on the victim, cases of false imprisonment come under different types. In most cases of false imprisonment filed in court, the restriction consists of physical boundaries such as an enclosed room with closed doors and windows that the victim is unable to escape from, or that the victim is bound to a chair or any other piece of furniture. Sometimes, the perpetrators may use false legal authority to impose boundaries that confine the victim within the restricted area. In simple words, this means that they pose as lawmakers and threaten hapless people, turning them into victims of false imprisonment. Another way of imposing false imprisonment is by threat, as we saw in the example of the robbers in the bank. Note that false imprisonment does not only include restricting a person within the confines of a building but also modes of transport such as cars and even airplanes.

Exceptions to the Law of False Imprisonment

The laws for false imprisonment have a few exceptions, which means that not every forceful detention is against the law. But why so, you may ask. Well, this is to aid legal procedures and ensure that they are faster. What are they and how in the world do they help the law? Read ahead to find out.

Law enforcement exception
Have you ever seen police personnel detain people who they suspect to have committed a crime? Now, the police do not have sufficient proof against these guys when they arrest them, do they? Yet, if they release them and these people go on to prove guilty later on, it would be next to impossible to find them. It is due to this reason that police have been bestowed with the power to detain people they suspect till the time they are proved innocent. The objective is to prevent the miscreants from escaping the police and the law.

Shopkeeper's Privilege
Well, you must have heard of this term before. Shopkeeper's privilege refers to the power bestowed to businessmen and shop owners that gives them the authority to detain a person they suspect of shoplifting i.e. stealing merchandise from their shops. However, they are not entitled to detain the person for infinite time but only for the time required for conducting a thorough search on the individual and his belongings to find out if indeed anything was stolen.

A case of false imprisonment can be tried in a civil court as well as a criminal court. If it is a civil case, the accused is entitled to pay compensation to the plaintiff, for the damages caused. On the other hand, a criminal case of false imprisonment results in the accused getting arrested and he is sentenced to prison. Kidnapping is an example of false imprisonment tried in a criminal court.