What is False Imprisonment? - Definition, Cases & Charges

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  • 0:03 Definition
  • 1:17 Kidnapping vs. False…
  • 1:43 Charges
  • 2:25 Cases
  • 3:56 Case Analysis
  • 5:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Tisha Collins Batis

Tisha is a licensed real estate agent in Texas. She holds bachelor's in legal studies and a master's degree in criminal justice.

In this lesson, we'll define false imprisonment, introduce cases involving false imprisonment, and discuss possible charges that people might face when charged with this crime.


In the last fifteen years, two separate cases involving false imprisonment captivated the nation. In 2002, Elizabeth Smart disappeared from her family home. She was found nine months later, after being held captive and sexually abused by her captor. More recently, three women were freed from the home of Ariel Castro. He abducted each woman separately and held them captive in his home for several years. These women were sexually abused as well, with one of them bearing his child. All of the victims in both of these cases wanted to leave their captors but were unable to do so. All four were victims of false imprisonment.

False imprisonment is a crime that involves a person holding a victim against his or her will. The victim can be made to stay where the perpetrator wants by being held there physically, being threatened, or being coerced to stay. If the victim is in a place he or she doesn't want to be and someone is making him or her stay there, it is possibly false imprisonment. This isn't always the case, however. For example, false imprisonment does not apply to situations were a convict is imprisoned or a security officer has legal justification to hold a shoplifting suspect until police arrive.

Kidnapping vs. False Imprisonment

It is important to note that there is a difference between false imprisonment and kidnapping. With false imprisonment, the victim is simply not allowed to leave. He or she may be physically restrained, but he or she is not moved from one location to another. Kidnapping is different because the victim is actually abducted and moved. In other words, kidnapping is a combination of two crimes: abduction and false imprisonment.


There are civil and criminal consequences that a captor may face when he or she has falsely imprisoned a victim. For example, the captor can face a civil lawsuit due to injuries the victim sustained, in addition to facing criminal charges. In some cases, he or she may face misdemeanor charges, and in other cases, he or she may face felony charges. Each case of false imprisonment is different, and the jurisdiction where the incident occurred will determine what charges the captor will face. If a perpetrator is convicted of a misdemeanor, he or she can face punishments such as jail time, probation, and fines. If he or she is convicted of a felony, he or she could face time in prison.


One case that involves false imprisonment that led to a civil lawsuit is the case of McCann v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Ms. McCann filed suit against Wal-Mart Stores after the following incident occurred: As Ms. McCann was leaving the Wal-Mart store one day with her children, store employees stopped them and wouldn't let them leave. The employees thought the McCann children were the children that had been involved in a recent shoplifting incident. The group was not allowed to leave until the store security officer came to identify the children. It was discovered that the McCann children were not the children that the employees thought they were, and the family was finally allowed to leave. Since the McCanns were held at the store and not allowed to leave without a good reason, they were able to file a civil lawsuit against Wal-Mart.

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