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False Imprisonment Law & Defense

PC 236-237

Information on the crime of false imprisonment is found at California penal code section 236. In short, false imprisonment is simply the unlawful violation of the personal physical liberty of another person.


To prove that the defendant is guilty of false imprisonment, the prosecutor must prove two elements beyond a reasonble doubt:

  • The defendant intentionally restrained or confined a person by violence or menace, and

  • The defendant’s act made that person stay or go somewhere against that person's will

  • There is no legal justification for the defendant's use of force to hold a person in place (for example: citizens' arrest, self defense, defense of other persons, consent, etc.).

The term violence in false imprisonment law means using physical force against a person that is greater than the amount necessary to restrain a person. The term menace means verbal or threatening actions that expressly or impliedly communicate a threat of harm.

For example, physically holding someone in place by force and against a person's will is a violent way to commit false imprisonment, but pointing a gun at someone and telling them to stay where they are, without legal justification for doing so, is false imprisonment by menace.

The term consent in false imprisonment law means that the person acts freely and voluntarily after knowing the true nature of the circumstances. For example, a person cannot consent to involuntary movement if he or she is so heavily intoxicated that he or she could not understand the nature of the circumstances surrounding the false imprisonment.

Punishment for PC 236

False Imprisonment is classified as a wobbler; this means that PC 236 may be charged as a felony or as a misdemeanor.

Misdemeanor false imprisonment convictions carry up to a one year county jail sentence. Felony false imprisonment convictions carry up to a three county prison sentence (See below for county prison definition).


Whether or not misdemeanor or felony charges are filed against the defendnat depends largely on the circumstances of the case, whether violence was actually used (as opposed to menace), the defendant's criminal history, and the presence of any mitigating factors, such as false imprisonment during a heated argument with a another person who is physically combating the defendant at the time of the false imprisonment (common in domestic violence cases).

Probation Sentence: A probation sentence is period of supervision as opposed to an acutal jail sentence. Probaiton sentenes are allowed in PC 236 cases, but they are not guaranteed. Whether or not a defendant will be allowed to serve a probation sentence in lieu of a jail setnence depends largely on the fact of the case and the defendant's criminal history (sometimes the alleged victim can be instrumental in determining whether or not the defendant should be place on probation. Probation sentences sometimes require manual labor or house arrest as a term of probaiton.

PC 1170(h) Sentence: If the defendant is convicted of PC 236 and he or she is not granted probation, the defendant may have his jail setnence suspended (not served so long as the defendant fulfills the conditions of out of custody release orders), or split (served partially in custody and partially out of custody on work release or house arrest). In any event, PC 1170(h) setencing allows a defendant convicted of PC 236 to serve jail time, if ordered, in a local county jail, as opposed to a state prison.

Note: False imprisonment is not considered a strike offense under California's Three Strike Sentencing Law. In addition, False Imprisonment is not considered a crime of moral turpitude for purposes of immigration or professional licensing concerns.

Collateral punishment

Fines & More: Penal Code 236 is punishable by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars. In addition to any jail or prison sentencing and fines, PC 236 convictions can lead to other severe consequences such as: Immigration issues (non U.S. citizens), professional licensing consequences, penalty fines, civil lawsuits, restitution, firearm prohibition, and employment loss.

Defenses to PC 236

Common defenses to false imprisonment charges include: mistake of fact, insufficient evidence to prove intent, statute of limitations, self defense, defense of others, consent to hold or move the allege victim, intoxication of the defendant, insanity, coerced confessions, and more.

If you have been charged with false imprisonment, or California penal code 236, contact our criminal defense lawyer to learn your rights and options without delay. Our criminal defense lawyes are available seven days a week to assist you with a free consultation.


  • False Imprisonment with Violence PC 237

  • Human Trafficking PC 236.1

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