Kidnapping vs. False Imprisonment

False imprisonment and kidnapping are serious charges, each with specific legal definitions and severe consequences. It’s essential to understand the differences between these charges and the importance of having an experienced criminal defense attorney to defend against them effectively.

False Imprisonment (CA Penal Code § 236)

False imprisonment involves the unlawful violation of another person’s liberty. This can include restraining, detaining, or confining someone without their consent. Common scenarios include holding someone in a room against their will or using threats to prevent them from leaving a specific area. Unlike kidnapping, false imprisonment does not require moving the victim a substantial distance.

Kidnapping (CA Penal Code § 207)

Kidnapping is defined as forcibly, or by instilling fear, taking or holding a person and moving them a substantial distance against their will. The key element that differentiates kidnapping from false imprisonment is the requirement to move the victim a significant distance, typically involving force, fear, or deception.

Key Differences Between False Imprisonment and Kidnapping

Requirement of Movement

  • False Imprisonment: There is no requirement to move the victim. Simply restraining or detaining them without consent is sufficient to constitute false imprisonment. This can occur in various forms, such as locking someone in a room or using threats to confine them to a specific area.
  • Kidnapping: This charge involves forcibly or fearfully moving the victim a substantial distance against their will. The movement must be significant and not trivial. For instance, moving someone from one city to another or even a considerable distance within the same location could qualify as kidnapping.

Use of Force or Fear

  • False Imprisonment: Can occur without the use of force or fear. It might involve deception or coercion, but physical force is not a necessary component. For example, tricking someone into staying in a place under false pretenses can be considered false imprisonment.
  • Kidnapping: Typically involves the use of force, fear, or deception to move the victim. This could include physically overpowering someone, using weapons, or threatening harm to compel the victim to comply with the abduction.

Intent and Duration

  • False Imprisonment: The duration of the confinement can be brief and does not necessarily involve the intent to move the victim. The focus is on the unlawful restriction of the victim’s freedom. The intent is simply to confine, regardless of how long or short the duration may be.
  • Kidnapping: Usually involves a clear intent to relocate the victim over a distance. The perpetrator’s goal is often to take the victim to another location, whether for ransom, to commit another crime, or for other illicit purposes. The intent to move and the act of moving the victim are central to the charge of kidnapping.

Examples of Situations Leading to Charges

False Imprisonment

  • Holding someone against their will in a room without allowing them to leave: This could involve locking the door, blocking the exit, or physically preventing someone from leaving. The key factor is that the person is confined against their will without legal justification.
  • Using threats to prevent someone from leaving a specific area: This might involve verbal threats of harm if the person attempts to leave, or intimidating behavior that makes the person feel they cannot safely exit the area. No physical force is necessary, as the coercion through threats is sufficient.


  • Forcing someone into a vehicle and driving them to a different location: This scenario involves the use of force or intimidation to compel the victim to enter a vehicle. Once inside, the victim is transported against their will, fulfilling the requirement of substantial movement for kidnapping.
  • Abducting someone and transporting them across city or state lines: This situation often involves premeditation and can be more severe due to the extended distance of the movement. Such acts can also lead to federal charges if state lines are crossed, complicating the legal consequences and potential penalties.

False Imprisonment Penalties

  • Misdemeanor Conviction:
    • Imprisonment: Up to one year in county jail.
    • Fines: Up to $1,000.
    • Probation: Up to three years of informal probation, which may include community service and mandatory counseling.
    • Restraining Orders: Issuance of restraining or protective orders to prevent further contact with the victim.
  • Felony Conviction:
    • Imprisonment: 16 months, two years, or three years in state prison.
    • Fines: Determined by the court based on the severity of the case.
    • Probation: Formal probation, which includes regular reporting to a probation officer and adherence to specific conditions.
    • Additional Conditions: Mandatory completion of counseling programs or community service.

Kidnapping Penalties

  • Simple Kidnapping:
    • Imprisonment: Three, five, or eight years in state prison.
    • Fines: Determined by the court, often substantial due to the severity of the crime.
    • Probation: Not typically available for kidnapping charges, given the serious nature of the offense.
  • Aggravated Kidnapping:
    • Imprisonment: Five years to life in state prison, depending on aggravating factors such as:
      • Ransom: Higher penalties if the kidnapping was for ransom.
      • Injury: Enhanced sentences if the victim was harmed.
      • Victim’s Age: Harsher penalties if the victim is a child.
    • Additional Penalties:
      • Restitution: Payment to the victim for any medical or counseling expenses.
      • Protective Orders: Long-term restraining orders against the defendant.
      • Parole: Potential lifetime parole depending on the severity of the offense and prior criminal history.

Defense Strategies for Corporal Injury Allegations

Self-Defense: a fundamental right that allows individuals to protect themselves from immediate harm. If you believe that the alleged victim was trying to harm you, you are entitled to defend yourself. To successfully argue self-defense, you must establish:

  • Reasonable Belief of Threat: You reasonably believed that you or someone else was in imminent danger of significant bodily injury.
  • Necessity of Action: You believed that your actions were necessary to prevent harm to yourself or another person.
  • Proportional Response: You used only the amount of force necessary to protect yourself, without intending to harm the other person.

False Accusations: can arise from various motives, such as jealousy, revenge, or personal gain. To combat false allegations, the defense must show:

  • Motive for False Claims: Identifying any reasons the accuser may have for making false allegations.
  • Inconsistencies in the Story: Highlighting discrepancies in the accuser’s statements.
  • Supporting Evidence: Providing evidence, such as witness testimonies or communications, that contradicts the accuser’s claims.

Accidental Injury: In some cases, the injury may have occurred accidentally without any intention to cause harm. This defense involves:

  • Lack of Intent: Demonstrating that the injury was not inflicted willfully.
  • Accidental Circumstances: Providing evidence that the injury was an unintended consequence of an accident.

Insufficient Evidence: For a conviction, the prosecution must prove all elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. If the evidence is weak or unreliable, the defense can argue:

  • Weaknesses in Prosecution’s Case: Pointing out flaws or gaps in the prosecution’s evidence.
  • Unreliable Witnesses: Challenging the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses.
  • Lack of Concrete Proof: Emphasizing the absence of definitive evidence linking the accused to the crime.

Misdemeanor Probation for False Imprisonment

  • Duration: Up to three years of informal probation.
  • Community Service: Mandatory completion of community service hours as specified by the court.
  • Counseling: Attendance in counseling sessions, such as anger management or other court-ordered programs.
  • Restraining Orders: Compliance with any restraining or protective orders issued by the court, preventing contact with the victim.
  • Regular Check-Ins: Periodic check-ins with a probation officer to ensure adherence to probation terms.
  • Restitution: Payment of restitution to the victim for any damages or losses incurred due to the false imprisonment.

Felony Probation for Kidnapping

  • Duration: Formal probation, often lasting three to five years, depending on the severity of the offense and the defendant’s criminal history.
  • Regular Reporting: Frequent reporting to a probation officer, including regular meetings and updates on compliance with probation terms.
  • Counseling Programs: Mandatory participation in counseling or rehabilitation programs, which may include psychological counseling, substance abuse treatment, or other relevant programs.
  • Restraining Orders: Strict adherence to any restraining or protective orders issued by the court to ensure no contact with the victim.
  • Restitution: Payment of restitution to the victim for any physical, emotional, or financial harm suffered due to the kidnapping.
  • Travel Restrictions: Limitations on travel, requiring court approval for leaving the jurisdiction.
  • Employment Requirements: Maintaining steady employment or enrolling in educational programs as directed by the court.
  • Additional Conditions: Compliance with any other specific conditions set by the court, such as electronic monitoring or curfews.

Contact a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are charged with false imprisonment or kidnapping, the consequences can be severe, including lengthy prison sentences, heavy fines, and long-term impacts on your personal and professional life. Given the serious nature of these charges, it is crucial to have a strong defense. An experienced criminal defense attorney can provide the guidance and representation you need to challenge the evidence against you, protect your rights, and work towards the best possible outcome.

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