Freedom of movement is a basic human right. When someone confines us against our will or transports us without our consent, we feel violated. These acts constitute false imprisonment and kidnapping, respectively, and are separate crimes in every state. Knowing the major differences will help you better understand what actions can give rise to a person being charged and punished for one or both offenses.
False Imprisonment Overview
False imprisonment occurs when someone confines or detains another person against their will and without any legal justification. The act does not need to be done forcibly or through intimidation. An example might be if you locked someone in a bedroom while he was asleep and refused to open the door after he awakened. State laws vary on whether this crime is punished as a misdemeanor, which can typically lead to a sentence of up to a year in jail, or as as felony, which can result in over a year in prison. If the victim was young or the perpetrator made threats or used physical force, many states provide for harsher penalties.
Read More: What is False Imprisonment Charge?
In contrast to false imprisonment, kidnapping involves the intentional act of taking away or moving a person against her will by use of force or threats of force. It is this moving of a person that separates the two crimes, and the distance does not need to be far. For example, if you grab someone walking by your house and pull her inside, this act could qualify as kidnapping. Kidnapping is a more serious crime than false imprisonment, and is generally punished as a felony. Like false imprisonment, the penalties can increase with aggravating circumstances, such as if the kidnapper was seeking a ransom or took a child.
Another important distinction between kidnapping and false imprisonment is that the latter gives rise to a potential civil claim against the offender as well as criminal charges. This means that a victim of false imprisonment may file a lawsuit against the perpetrator and could be awarded money damages as compensation for any injuries or emotional distress caused by the act. If the act was particularly egregious, a victim may also be entitled to punitive damages, meant solely to punish the wrongdoer. Many acts of kidnapping can also include charges of false imprisonment.
False imprisonment is based on the notion that the person detaining you had no legal justification. However, in some cases, the person asserts that he has a legal basis to hold another, which turns out to be false. This is known as a false arrest, and an example would be if you are arrested by someone impersonating a police officer. Actual officers can also commit a false arrest if they detain you without a warrant or probable cause. Probable cause means that there is a reasonable basis for believing that you committed a crime. If an officer arrested you solely on the basis of your race, for example, he would not have probable cause and no legal justification for the arrest. False arrests are often punished under the same criminal statute as false imprisonment, and many states allow victims to obtain compensation from the police or private citizens for damages.
Wayne Thomas earned his J.D. from Penn State University and has been practicing law since 2008. He has experience writing about environmental topics, music and health, as well as legal issues. Since 2011, Thomas has also served as a contributing editor for the "Vermont Environmental Monitor."