False imprisonment is a crime that is commonly misunderstood in Florida. It is a serious crime nonetheless, and a conviction of false imprisonment carries serious consequences with it. What follows is a discussion of Florida’s false imprisonment law and what you need to know if you ever find yourself charged with it.
Florida law defines false imprisonment as
forcibly, by threat, or secretly confining, abducting, imprisoning, or restraining another person
without lawful authority and
against his or her will.
Although false imprisonment closely resembles kidnapping, there are important distinctions – a kidnapping is a forcible confinement of a victim for the purpose of obtaining a ransom or reward, using the victim as a hostage or shield, or with the intent to commit some other felony on the victim. Also, in a kidnapping, the victim is taken to a different place by the kidnapper, whereas in a false imprisonment, no transportation of the victim can have occurred.
In order to prove false imprisonment, the prosecution must generally prove three things
the detention was without consent, and
the detention was unlawful.
Although physical force is frequently the method for restraining the victim of a false imprisonment, it is not the only method. Erecting a physical barrier like a locked door or by causing duress that compels the victim to remain in confinement are also methods by which a false imprisonment may be carried out.
In any instance, the victim of false imprisonment must have reasonably believed that they were confined, and the individual doing the confinement must have done so without any sort of authority or privilege that would allow it.
A common defense to false imprisonment in Florida is that of consent. If the victim can be shown to have remained of their own volition, a conviction of false imprisonment cannot be sustained.
Another defense to false imprisonment in Florida is that of police privilege. In every jurisdiction, law enforcement has the legal permission to detain an individual if sufficient probable cause that the person being imprisoned has committed a crime.
Most jurisdictions, including Florida, have an exception to false imprisonment that allows retailers to detain an individual for whom they have a reasonable belief has attempted to steal merchandise from them. However, the privilege, known as shopkeeper’s privilege, is limited to ascertaining who the person is, whether they did in fact attempt to steal from the store, and until law enforcement can arrive to make an arrest.
Occasionally a private individual may have the privilege of detaining another individual if that private individual believes the person they are detaining committed a crime in their presence. Known as a citizen’s arrest, this exception is similarly narrow, and it ends upon the arrival of a law enforcement officer.
A conviction of false imprisonment in Florida is a third degree felony and may result in a fine of up to $5,000 and a prison sentence of up to five years. However, if the victim is younger than 13 years of age and the defendant commits sexual battery, lewd or lascivious battery, or aggravated child abuse, the conviction becomes a first degree felony and could lead to a fine of up to $10,000 and a prison sentence of up to 30 years.