The Basics of False Imprisonment in Florida

False imprisonment can come as something of a surprise to those who have been charged with the crime, in Florida and elsewhere.  Oftentimes, the defendant does not realize that they must have legal authority (or must be otherwise legally privileged) in order to keep another person confined or restrained against their will.

For example, a retail store owner may have security guard employees hold a customer against their Will for a lengthy period of time until they can determine that the customer has not shoplifted items.  In determining whether these acts constitute “false imprisonment,” the court will have to evaluate whether the store owner had the legal authority to restrain the customer against their will (under the circumstances).

There remain a number of misconceptions about false imprisonment.  Many are unaware that they can be charged with false imprisonment for simply grabbing someone and keeping them restrained against their will.  Many others mistakenly believe that false imprisonment is only a minor crime, but in Florida, false imprisonment is a third-degree felony that may be punished by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

With effective legal representation, the sentence of imprisonment may — under certain circumstances — be made into a period of probation.

As false imprisonment can be somewhat difficult to understand, let’s zoom in for a quick look at the fundamentals.

Fundamentals of False Imprisonment

In Florida, false imprisonment is defined in section 787.02 of the Florida Statutes.  False imprisonment is fundamentally a crime involving the deprivation of personal liberty (i.e., the freedom of movement).  Pursuant to the statute, a false imprisonment charge must stand where the defendant:

  1. Forcibly, by threat, or in secret confined, abducted, imprisoned, or restrained another person against his or her will, and
  2. Acted without lawful authority.

Though false imprisonment frequently involves the use of physical force — such as the use of a hand gripping on a customer’s arm to restrain them and prevent them from leaving a retail store premises — it need not actually involve force.  A reasonable threat of force, or the threat of arrest, is sufficient for a false imprisonment charge.

Lawful authority can be difficult to establish.  Police, for example, are clearly granted the authority necessary to confine or restrain an individual against their will.  The average citizen, on the other hand, may not necessarily be authorized to restrain another against their will.  As such, making a successful defense to false imprisonment often involves an assertion that the defendant was authorized or otherwise privileged to restrain the victim.

Common Defenses to False Imprisonment

Defenses to false imprisonment include, but are not necessarily limited, to:

  • Acting in self-defense
  • Victim consented to restraint
  • Victim was not actually restrained or confined (i.e., they were free to leave if they wished to do so)
  • Shopkeeper’s privilege (if there is probable cause of theft, merchants have the authority to detain a person for a reasonable length of time until law enforcement is available)
  • And more

Contact Our Experienced Sarasota Criminal Defense Attorneys for Help

Fowler Law Group is a criminal defense firm with offices located throughout Florida — in Sarasota and Bradenton.  Our attorneys have decades of experience defending accused criminals in state and federal prosecutions, for a range of different charges, including false imprisonment.

False imprisonment can be categorized as a third-degree or first-degree felony, depending on the circumstances of the offense and additional aggravating factors.  It may also be accompanied by related criminal charges.  Further, in some cases, you may also find yourself the subject of a civil tort claim.

Given that a false imprisonment conviction can not only lead to serious penalties but can also hurt your future employment prospects and your brand (if you own a business), it’s critical that you work with a skilled attorney who is capable of successfully litigating on your behalf.

Call (941) 900-3100 or submit an online form today to speak to one of the experienced Sarasota criminal defense attorneys here at Fowler Law Group.  We look forward to speaking with you further.

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