Statute of Limitations for False Imprisonment in California

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In California, you can face a civil lawsuit or be criminally charged for false imprisonment of another person. Both types of cases are subject to a statute of limitations, meaning that after a set amount of time passes, legal action cannot be taken against you. It is worth noting that the trial does not need to occur before the statute runs out – the charges or lawsuit simply need to be filed before that date.

Defining False Imprisonment in California

False imprisonment is essentially the act of holding someone against their will. The legal definition requires the defendant to intentionally and unlawfully restrain, detain or confine another person against her will. Generally it is a misdemeanor if no force or threat of force was used and a felony otherwise, though this decision will rest with the district attorney pressing the charges. False imprisonment is similar to what most people think of as kidnapping, only it is a lesser crime with a possibly shorter sentence.

Read More: What is False Imprisonment Charge?

Criminal False Imprisonment Charges

In California, only a handful of criminal charges have their own statute of limitations timelines. Because false imprisonment is not one of these specific charges, the statute for this crime is based on the general California timetable for all crimes. Since false imprisonment can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, the statute of limitations varies under the general time table based on how the charges are filed. If the charge is a felony, it is generally subject to a three-year statute of limitations. If it is a misdemeanor, it will be subject to a one-year statute of limitations. These time frames can vary, though. For example, the California penal code on the statute of limitations states that if the victim of a misdemeanor is under 14 years old, the timeline can be increased to three years.

False Arrest Lawsuit in California

Most lawsuits involving false imprisonment in California relate to the false arrest of the victim, although any form of false imprisonment can be subject to a lawsuit. False arrest lawsuits often involve police, security guards or even regular individuals attempting to make a citizen's arrest. In order to win a false imprisonment case, you must be able to show that you were held or taken against your will without legal justification. For example, if the boss of your company said someone stole his phone during a meeting and he refused to let anyone leave the room for hours, stating no one could leave until the thief came forward, he might be charged with false imprisonment.

False arrest lawsuits against police usually are a little different because police are aware that they need probable cause to detain someone they suspect of a crime. Because probable cause is somewhat ambiguous, it is often up to the courts to decide if the police acted properly. For example, if you were running in a hoodie and the officer knew someone committed a robbery recently and escaped on foot, he might assume you were running to escape custody. If you attempted to show the officer texts on your phone to prove that you were running to your house because you found out a friend was at your house and you didn't want to miss seeing her but the officer still arrested you with no other evidence, you might have a case for false arrest. The false imprisonment statute of limitations for civil cases is one year regardless of the specifics of the crime.

Statute of Limitations Start Date

Generally, the statute of limitations begins when a crime occurs. In cases involving false imprisonment, that typically means when the victim was released from the false imprisonment. However, there is an exception allowing for a longer statute of limitations based on the date of discovery. Essentially, that means when the victim actually discovered they were wronged or should have learned they were wronged. For example, if a young child was subjected to false imprisonment by a teacher but didn't tell his parents until much later, the statute would start at that point.

In a civil case, if the defendant is absent from the state, in most cases, the statute is extended until she returns. Also, if the victim was a minor, the statute of limitations does not begin until he turns 18. If the defendant was legally insane at the time the crime occurred, the statute will be put on hold until she has been considered competent again. However, if she became incompetent after the incident occurred, the statute is not put on hold.

Interestingly, the statute of limitations can be extended in a civil case based on the outcome of a criminal case as a plaintiff may bring a civil case against someone convicted of a felony for up to one year after the date of conviction. This is because someone's conviction in a criminal trial can be used as evidence against them in a civil trial.


  • The statute of limitations for a civil lawsuit for false imprisonment in California is one year, but it can vary in criminal cases based on the severity of charges filed.

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