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False imprisonment is a restraint of a person in a bounded area without justification or consent. False imprisonment is a common-law felony and a tort. It applies to private as well as governmental detention.[1] When it comes to public police, the proving of false imprisonment is sufficient to obtain a writ of habeas corpus.


The following are false imprisonment scenarios.

  • The taking hostage of a bank's customers and employees by bank robbers.
  • The detention of a customer by a business owner (e.g., hotel operator, apartment owner, credit card company) for the failure to pay a bill. However, there is something known as the "merchant's exception." A store operator may detain a suspected thief for a reasonable period of time to conduct an investigation of the facts or situation.
  • Certain situations arising from controversial legislation, like California's Assembly Bill 1421, Laura's Law.
  • A robber in an home invasion ties hostage up and takes them to a separate room.

What false imprisonment is not

Not all detainments constitute false imprisonment, as to whether or not, it is based heavily on the context of the situation.

Police Privilege

Under United States law, the police have the right to detain someone if they have probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, and that the person is so involved, or if the officer has reasonable suspicion that the person has been, is, or is about to be, engaged in criminal activity based on specific and articulable facts and inferences.

Shopkeeper's Privilege

Many jurisdictions of the United States recognize the common law shopkeeper's privilege, under which he is allowed to detain a suspected shoplifter on store property for a reasonable period of time, with cause to believe that the person detained in fact committed, or attempted to commit theft of store property. The shopkeeper's privilege, although recognized in most jurisdictions, is not as broad a privilege as that of a police officer's, and therefore one must pay special attention to the temporal element – that is, the shopkeeper may only detain the suspected criminal for a relatively short period of time. This is similar to a general right in many jurisdictions of citizen's arrest of suspected criminals by the public in limited circumstances.


This privilege has been justified by the very practical need for some degree of protection for shopkeepers in their dealings with suspected shoplifters. Absent such privilege, a shopkeeper would be faced with the dilemma of either allowing suspects to leave without challenge or acting upon his suspicion and risking a false arrest.

====Requirement==== US states recognize a privilege, usually limited to shopkeepers to detain temporarily for investigation anyone whom they reasonably suspect of having tortiously taken their goods or is attempting to. In America to properly exercise this privilege all the following conditions must be satisfied:

  1. Investigation on or near premises: The detention itself must be effected either on the store premises or in the immediate vicinity thereof. A majority of courts state that the privilege to detain is lost once they leave the store's property. US Courts do allow shopkeepers to chase after the person to recapture their lost merchandise when they are in "fresh pursuit." The investigation must be to determine ownership of the property, not to force a confession.
  2. Reasonable suspicion: The shopkeeper must have reasonable grounds to suspect the particular person detained.
  3. Reasonable force only: reasonable, nondeadly force may be used to effect the detention. Use of force is justified when the suspect is in immediate flight or violently resists detention. They may handcuff a customer, lie them on the ground, sit them on the ground but must allow them to look for a receipt. Credibility and contradictory testimony is for a fact finder, i.e. a jury or judge to determine. Doing so is evidence to support damages of false imprisonment, and even gross negligence if the conduct involved exposed the customer to an extreme risk of substantial harm, which would allow an award of exemplary damages.
  4. Reasonable period and manner of detention: The detention itself may be only for the period of time necessary for reasonable investigation (usually very short) and must be conducted in a reasonable manner. US courts have found that it may be only for 10 and never longer than 15 minutes. A detention can be accomplished by means which restrains the party so detained from removing from one place to another as he may see proper.
  • If one of the conditions is not satisfied the shopkeeper loses the privilege and can be liable for false imprisonment, and any other torts they commit.

Note: Reasonable mistake protected: Where these conditions are established, the shopkeeper is immune from liability for false arrest, battery, etc. - even though it turns out that the person detained was innocent of any wrongdoing if they satisfied all the requirements.

The shopkeeper's privilege does not give immunity for defamation claims against the stores, they are not entitled to a qualified privilege to publicly accuse the suspect of shoplifting. Statements may be made privately during the course of investigation or they must be able to show such statements were made without malice (that is a statement made with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard as to its truth). To avoid liability for defamation, the person must be acting in good faith, the communication passes only to persons having an interest or duty in the matter to which the communications relate.


The privilege for the most part is to be able to return the stolen goods. The shopkeeper may not force a confession. They do have a right to conduct a contemporaneous search of the person and the objects within that person's control.

Claim of False Imprisonment

To prevail under a false imprisonment claim, a plaintiff must prove: (1) willful detention; (2) without consent; and (3) without authority of law.(Restatement of the Law, Second, Torts)

The test of liability is not based on the store patron's guilt or innocence, but instead on the reasonableness of the store's action under the circumstances; the trier of fact usually determines whether reasonable belief is established. A guilty shoplifter can still sue for false imprisonment then if the detention was unreasonable.


In a Louisiana case in the United States, a pharmacist and his pharmacy were found liable by a trial court for false imprisonment. They stalled for time and instructed a patient to wait while simultaneously and without the patient's knowledge calling the police. The pharmacist was suspicious of the patient's prescription, which her doctor had called in previously. When the police arrived, they arrested the patient. While the patient was in prison, the police verified with her doctor that the prescription was authentic and that it was meant for her. After this incident, the patient sued the pharmacy and its employees. She received $20,000 damages. An appeals court reversed the judgment, because it believed the elements of false imprisonment were not met.[1][2]

In Enright v. Groves, a woman sued a police officer for false imprisonment after being arrested for not leashing her dog. The plaintiff was in her car when she was approached by the officer, and when she was asked to produce her driver's license and failed to do so, she was arrested. She won her claim, despite having lost the case of not leashing her dog. The court reasoned that the officer did not have proper legal authority in arresting her, because he arrested her for not producing her driver's license (which itself was not a crime) as opposed to the dog leash violation.[3]

In the United Kingdom, a case was brought to the High Court concerning the alleged unlawful detention of hundreds of members of the public during the May Day riots of 2001 in London, England. The police, using the tactic of "kettling", held a large crowd in Oxford Circus for several hours without allowing anyone to leave. Lois Austin, a peaceful protestor who had not broken the law, and Geoffrey Saxby, an innocent passer-by who was not involved in the demonstration, claimed that they were falsely imprisoned by the London Metropolitan Police and that their detention was in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights.[4] The pair lost their court action in 2005,[5] when the High Court ruled that the police had not acted unlawfully. An appeal against the ruling also failed in 2007.[6] A ruling by the House of Lords declared that even in the case of an absolute right, the High Court was entitled to take the "purpose" of the deprivation of liberty into account before deciding if human rights law applied at all.[7]

See also

External links


  1. Taylor v. Johnson, 796 So.2d 11 (La. App. 3 Cir. 2001).
  2. "False Imprisonment Alleged When Patient Is Detained with Suspicious Rx", found at Article in Pharmacy Times website. Accessed October 8, 2008.
  3. 39 Colo.App. 39, 560 P.2d 851 (Colo. Ct. App. 1977)
  4. "Police sued over May Day protest". London: BBC News. 2002-04-28. Retrieved 2009-04-16.
  5. "Pair lose protest damages claim". London: BBC News. 2005-03-23. Retrieved 2009-04-16.
  6. "Pair lose May Day protest claim". London: BBC News. 2007-10-15. Retrieved 2009-04-16.
  7. "Judgments - Austin (FC) (Appellant) & another v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (Respondent)". House of Lords Appellate Committee. 2009-01-28. Retrieved 2009-04-16.

de:Freiheitsberaubung fr:Séquestration (crime) he:כליאת שווא nl:Wederrechtelijke vrijheidsberoving sv:Olaga frihetsberövande

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