False Imprisonment can lead to a number of different penalties depending on the circumstances of your detention.
What is the legal definition of False Imprisonment?
False imprisonment is defined in NRS 200.460:
- False imprisonment is an unlawful violation of the personal liberty of another, and consists in confinement or detention without sufficient legal authority.
- A person convicted of false imprisonment shall pay all damages sustained by the person so imprisoned, and, except as otherwise provided in this section, is guilty of a gross misdemeanor.
- Unless a greater penalty is provided pursuant to subsection 4, if the false imprisonment is committed:
- By a prisoner in a penal institution without a deadly weapon; or
- By any other person with the use of a deadly weapon,
- the person convicted of such a false imprisonment is guilty of a category B felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 1 year and a maximum term of not more than 6 years.
- Unless a greater penalty is provided pursuant to subsection 5, if the false imprisonment is committed by using the person so imprisoned as a shield or to avoid arrest, the person convicted of such a false imprisonment is guilty of a category B felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 1 year and a maximum term of not more than 15 years.
- If the false imprisonment is committed by a prisoner who is in lawful custody or confinement with the use of a deadly weapon, the person convicted of such a false imprisonment is guilty of a category B felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 1 year and a maximum term of not more than 20 years.
False Imprisonment seems pretty obvious, isn’t it just illegally putting someone in prison?
Not quite. False Imprisonment is a much broader crime. It relates to anytime you deprive someone else of their freedom of movement without a reason to do so. In fact, False Imprisonment can apply even when the victim is outdoors and there is no building that they can be imprisoned in. If the victim did not have a reasonable means of movement, then they were “imprisoned.”
How can someone be “imprisoned” if they are outdoors?
The easiest way to explain is through an example. Assume that you come to a beach where someone is skinny dipping. If you were then to steal their clothes, then the person would then be “imprisoned” in the water because the law does not see walking around in public as a “reasonable” means of movement.
Okay, but how often does that really happen?
Obviously that particular scenario is not a common one. Generally speaking, false imprisonment occurs far more often in situations where the victim is being “detained,” whether by a police or security officer, or by some other person not acting in an official capacity.
The example serves to show that false imprisonment can be charged whenever you restrict someone’s ability to move without authority of law.
But what if I were to accidentally lock someone in a room because I didn’t know they were in there?
While this would be an example of restricting someone’s movement, it would not be considered false imprisonment because it was unintentional. False Imprisonment requires the intent to restrict the victim’s movement.
What if I’ve been wrongly accused of shoplifting and the store won’t let me leave?
Shoplifting is a tricky area because there are laws that protect merchants and shopkeepers when they believe that someone is stealing from them. In such circumstances, however, the merchant or shopkeeper is only allowed to detain you in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable length of time. Generally this means that they cannot harm or threaten to harm you, and that they can only detain you for as long as it takes to conduct a reasonable search. (In some cases, this will mean that they can call the police to come and conduct the search)
If the circumstances of your detainment by the merchant or shopkeeper are all reasonable, then they cannot be charged with false imprisonment. This is why it is so important to speak with an experienced attorney in order to help you show that the circumstances surrounding the charge were reasonable.
What are the possible penalties?
The penalties for violating of NRS 200.460 depend greatly on the circumstances surrounding the detainment.
If the false imprisonment is committed without the use of a deadly weapon, the crime is a gross misdemeanor and you can be sentenced to:
- up to 364 days in a Nevada State Prison; and
- Possibly fines up to $2,000.00.
If the false imprisonment is committed with the use of a deadly weapon, then the crime will be charged as a Category B felony and will carry a possible sentence of:
- Between 1 and 6 years in a Nevada State Prison.
If you committed false imprisonment and in doing so, used the victim as a human shield or to avoid arrest, then the crime will be charged as a Category B felony and will carry a sentence of:
- Between 1 and 15 years in a Nevada State Prison.
If you were an inmate in lawful custody at the time you committed the false imprisonment, then the charges become much more serious.
If you did not use a deadly weapon in the process of committing the false imprisonment, then you can be charged with a category B felony and will be facing:
- Between 1 and 6 years in a Nevada State Prison.
If you were an inmate in lawful custody and committed the false imprisonment with the use of a deadly weapon, then you can be charged with a category B felony and will be facing:
- Between 1 and 20 years in a Nevada State Prison.
Please Note: If you are convicted of false imprisonment under any of the above mentioned circumstances, the Court can also require that you pay any and all damages that the victim suffered as a result of the confinement. This is separate from any civil actions that the victim may choose to bring against you.
Are there any Defenses?
The possible defenses to False Imprisonment charges will depend on the specific circumstances of your case, but may include:
- Legal Authority – As already noted above, merchants and shopkeepers are legally allowed to detain suspected shopkeepers, in limited circumstances. If you detained someone and had legal authority to do so, then the charges against you should be dropped or dismissed.
- Consent – A person who has consented to being detained or restrained has not been “falsely imprisoned.” By consenting to the detainment, the supposed victim has chosen to give up their right to reasonable movement, and as such has not been “imprisoned.”
- Self-Defense – Self-defense laws allow for the “reasonable use of force” in defense of yourself and others. If you can show that you had a reasonable belief that you or another person was about sustain immediate harm, then the restraint or confinement would have been in self-defense, and the charges against you should be dropped or dismissed.
- No Intent – As noted above, if you did not intend to confine or restrain the victim, then you should not be charged with false imprisonment and the charges against you should be dropped or dismissed.
What should I do if I’ve been charged with False Imprisonment?
As with any crime, it is very important that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible so that you can discuss the specific circumstances as well as any defenses that may apply to your case.