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False Imprisonment Laws in California – Penal Code 236 PC

Review of PC 236 False Imprisonment Laws and Defenses

California Penal Code 236 PC describes the crime of false imprisonment as unlawfully depriving another person of their personal liberty.

Put simply, it's a crime to detain, restrain, or confine someone without their consent and not allow them to leave when they want. PC 236 can be violated with or without the use of force.

False Imprisonment Laws in California – Penal Code 236 PC
The crime of PC 236 false imprisonment is described as the unlawful violation of another person's liberty.

False imprisonment is similar to more serious Penal Code 207 kidnapping charges that require moving a victim a substantial distance.

Under PC 236, there is no requirement that the victim is moved to another location. Rather, simply holding or restraining somebody against their will is considered false imprisonment.


A common example of false imprisonment occurs during domestic violence incidents.

For instance, during a boyfriend/girlfriend argument, the man grabs and holds her arms when she makes an attempt to leave the home.

Since she is being detained and confined, even for a short time, the boyfriend could be charged with PC 236 false imprisonment.

False imprisonment is a “wobbler” that can be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony crime and penalized under Penal Code 237 PC.

For additional information, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are providing a review of the law below.

What is the Definition of PC 236 False Imprisonment?

California law, under PC 236, defines this crime as follows:

  • “False imprisonment is the unlawful violation of the personal liberty of another person.”

In order to violate someone's “personal liberty,” there must a sustained restriction of their freedom by use of violence, duress, fraud, deceit, or a threat of unlawful injury that victim reasonably believes.

Elements of the crime 

In order for a prosecutor to convict a defendant of Penal Code 236 PC false imprisonment, they must be able to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, several different factors.

These are known as the “elements of the crime,” which are listed under CALCRIM 1242 criminal jury instructions for misdemeanor cases and CALCRIM 1240 for felony false imprisonment cases, that a defendant:

  • intentionally detained, restrained, or confined another person;
  • the restraint made the victim stay or go somewhere for a period of time;
  • victim did not give their consent and was harmed;
  • the conduct was a significant factor in causing victim's harm.

On the crucial issue of “restraint, detention, or confinement,” it's not required that a victim be locked up in a room or closet.

Rather, it's considered false imprisonment when someone is simply detained or confined by use of force, fraud, or threat of force. This could include the use of physical barriers, such as furniture, to prevent them from leaving.

General intent crime 

Penal Code 236 PC is considered a “general intent” crime, meaning a defendant doesn't have to literally have the intent to falsely imprison someone, but rather only that their deliberate conduct caused it

What does that mean? Put simply, a defendant does not have to actually physically hold and restrain someone to be found guilty of false imprisonment.

Further, someone can be charged with a felony false imprisonment even if they didn't use any actual violence against the victim, but rather only caused the victim fear of potential violence if they attempted to leave..

What are the Penalties for a Conviction?

Under California Penal Code 237 PC, false imprisonment can be filed as a misdemeanor or felony offense.

False imprisonment is normally a misdemeanor crime that carries:

  • up to one year in a county jail, and
  • a fine up to $1,000.

If convicted of a felony false imprisonment case, which normally means the crime included violence, fraud, menace, or deceit, then you are facing:

  • 16 months, two, or three years in county jail,
  • A fine up to $10,000.

The term “menace” means there was a threat of violence, but it doesn't have to be communicated verbally, rather simply implied be defendant's conduct.

 What are the Penalties for a False Imprisonment Conviction?
False imprisonment charges can be filed by the prosecutor as either a misdemeanor or felony.

Sentencing enhancements 

If the false imprisonment victim was elderly or dependent, then the county jail sentence could be increase to up to four years.

If the elderly victim suffered a great bodily injury, then the sentence can increase based on their specific age either above or below 70 years old.

If the false imprisonment was for the benefit of a criminal street gang, then the defendant is facing a 15 years to life enhancement under California Penal Code Section 186.22.

In a false imprisonment case where a gun was used, then an additional ten years can be added to the sentence. If the gun was actually discharged, then 25 years could be added to the jail sentence.

What California Crimes Are Related to Penal Code 236 PC?

Penal Code 210.5 PC – false imprisonment of hostage to avoid arrest,

Penal Code 207/209 PC – kidnapping,

Penal Code 215 PC - carjacking,

Penal Code 209.5 PC – kidnapping during a carjacking,

Penal Code 278 PC – child abduction

Penal Code 591.5 PC - damage a cell phone to prevent help.

What are the Best Defenses?

If you were accused of violating Penal Code 236 PC false imprisonment laws, we might be able to get the charges reduced or dismissed.

Our criminal defense lawyers can use different strategies in an effort to obtain the best possible outcome on the case.

No force or fear - We might be able to argue the victim was at the location voluntarily and you didn't use force or fear to get them to stay.

Further, they were not restrained against their will and were free to leave at any time. If we can create reasonable doubt on this crucial element, then you have a good chance at avoiding a conviction.

Good faith belief - It might be possible to make an argument the defendant's actions were in good faith, meaning their restraint of the victim was due to a reasonable belief the victim could endanger themselves or others.

What are the Best Defenses for False Imprisonment Charges?
Contact our law firm to discuss potential defenses.

For example, perhaps the victim was their spouse who had been making threats to commit suicide for harm themselves during an earlier argument.

False allegation - We might be able to argue the false imprisonment allegations are false and were made by an alleged victim who was motivated by jealously or revenge.

Self-Defense - In some false imprisonment cases, it might be possible to make a self-defense argument. Perhaps restraint of the victim was necessary and simply an act of self-defense or defense of others and the force used was reasonable under the circumstances.

Prefiling intervention - Depending on the specific details of the case PC 236 false imprisonment case, we might be able to negotiate with the prosecutor to avoid the filing of formal criminal charges before court.

If you are under investigation, or already arrested and charged with Penal Code 236 false imprisonment, our experienced criminal defense lawyers can help you.

Due to the harsh penalties and permanent criminal record for a conviction, you need a legal team with a record of success.

Eisner Gorin LLP is a criminal defense law firm with two office locations in Los Angeles County. Contact our firm for an initial consultation at (877) 781-1570.

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