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What constitutes false imprisonment?

False imprisonment consists of any type of unlawful restraint or interference with the personal liberty of an individual. It involves any unlawful violation of the liberty of another. The ancient  English legal scholar, Henry De Bracton (1200-1268) tells us that false imprisonment is one of the oldest violations known:

“Forcefully to deprive a man of the freedom to go wheresoever he may is clearly trespass. False imprisonment was one of the first trespasses recognized by the common law”

False imprisonment is classified as a tort under common law, and also a crime. It has been labelled as a tort, a trespass, an assault, a wrong, a damage, and an injury, giving one cause to bring suit against another as an injury. Depriving a person of their liberty is no different than depriving a person of their property – a theft of liberty is a wrong by which remedy can be had, just as is the case with theft of property.

False imprisonment is a great offense due to the high regard the law has for liberty. In Chitty’s Practice of the Law, it states:

“The infraction of personal liberty has ever been regarded as one of the greatest injuries. The injuries to liberty are principally termed “False imprisonments, or malicious prosecutions”

Unlawful Arrest  or Detention

Unlawful detention or deprivation of liberty is the basis for an action for the tort of False imprisonment. Actual seizure or the laying on of hands is not necessary to constitute an unlawful detention. Thus the only elements of the action are: (1) Detention or restraint against one’s will. (2) The unlawfulness of such detention or restraint.

In his Treatise on the Law of Torts, Judge Cooley states:

“False imprisonment is akin to the wrongs of assault and battery, and consists in imposing, by force or threats, an unlawful restraint upon a man’s freedom of locomotion”

Blackstone in his Commentaries on the Law, (3Bl.comm.127) states on this matter:

“Every confinement of the person is an imprisonment, whether it be in a common prison, or is a private house, or in the stocks, or even by forcefully detaining one in the public streets”

Thus any type of detainment of a person, or restriction or deprivation of their liberty or freedom of locomotion, where he is compelled to remain where he does not wish to remain, is an “imprisonment”. The only question thereafter is whether or not the imprisonment is “false”. The word ”false” comes from the common law and is synonymous with “unlawful”.

A false arrest is one means of committing a false imprisonment…..

A rather complete description of what does and does not constitute as false imprisonment was given by the Supreme Court of Kansas as follows:

False imprisonment is necessarily a wrongful interference with the personal liberty of an individual. The wrong may be committed by words alone or by acts alone, or by both, and by merely operating on the will of the individual, or by personal violence or both. It is not necessary that the individual be confined within a prison or within walls, or that he be assaulted or even touched. It is not necessary that there be any injury done to the individual’s person or to his character or reputation; nor is it necessary that the wrongful act be committed with malice or ill will, or even with the slightest wrongful intention, nor that the act be committed under the colour of any legal or judicial proceeding. All that is necessary is that the individual be restrained of his liberty without any sufficient legal cause therefore , and by any words, or acts which he fears to disregard”.

…..If someone causes a situation that makes it impossible for another to exercise their liberty or locomotion, it is false imprisonment.

….The law sets such a high value on the liberty of the citizen that even an attempt to unlawfully arrest is esteemed a great provocation. All the authorities agree that an arrest may be made with or without any physical force or actual touching by the officer. Thus any illegal restraint of one’s personal liberty by the act of another gives that person a cause of action for False imprisonment against one causing the illegal restraint. Prima facie any restraint put by fear or force is unlawful……So if an officer tells a person that he is under arrest, and he thereupon submits himself to the officer, going with him and obeying his orders, such a person is deprived of his liberty, and if the act of the officer is unlawful, it is false imprisonment. In all cases where there is no physical touching or seizure, nor any resistance, the intentions of the parties to the transaction are to be considered. In such a case there must have been intent on the part of one of them to arrest or restrain the other, and intent on part of the other to submit under the belief and impression that submission was necessary.

….Where two people are travelling in a car and stopped by police, and the party not driving is put in the police car and told to wait, the officer doing so is guilty of False imprisonment. Even though the person in the police car was there for less than a minute, it was an arrest, as the officer had no authority for confining him in a car. Even where police officers stop a moving vehicle for a brief detention, it is sufficient to constitute an arrest. Where one is told to stay in their car by an officer, though it only be for ten seconds, it is an arrest. Time duration is not a factor in making an arrest.

…Where on is approached by an officer and questioned about his identity and actions, this is only an accosting, not an arrest.

Damages and Liability

One who interferes with another’s liberty of locomotion does so at his own peril. All who do so without lawful authority can be sued for the trespass upon liberty and loss of time. It is thus a very serious thing to deprive a person of their liberty.

Since false imprisonment is a wrong suffered by a person, that person is entitled to receive a remedy for damages. Not only is a person entitled to receive a remedy for the deprivation of his liberty, but also for any other damages that are a result of that deprivation.

False imprisonment was a indictable offense at common law, and relief by the part aggrieved was obtained by an action for trespass vi et armis (with force and arms).

The illegal arrest of a person without a warrant, or under a invalids warrant, entitles him to compensation for the damages sustained by reason of the false or unlawful imprisonment.

…..Unlawful interference with or injuries to the liberty of a citizen is a violation of his natural, inherent and absolute rights, which damage results as a legal consequence.

A false imprisonment generally includes an assault and battery , and always , at least, a technical assault. An unlawful arrest, imprisonment and prosecution of a person can cause that person many damages, including bodily pain, great physical inconvenience and discomfort, loss of time, mental suffering, injury to reputation, distress or anguish, humiliation of mind, shame, public ridicule, invidious publicity, and public disgrace. Some of these damages overlap to some degree but all can and have been claimed in false imprisonment suits.

Upon the subject of damages, the law specifies two kinds of damages or divides them into two classes. There what is called “actual damages”, then there are what are called “punitive damages”.

Actual damages are such compensation for the injury as would follow from the nature and character of the act. They a re the damages for wrongs received and injuries done when none were intended….

Punitive damages are those that grow out of wantonness or atrocity, or aggravated by the act. They are injuries and sufferings that were intended or occurred through malice, carelessness or negligence amounting to a wrong so reckless and wanton as to be without cause….

Anyone who assists or participates in an unlawful arrest or imprisonment is equally liable for the damage caused. Thus where a man was illegally arrested by a police officer and was placed in a patrol wagon in which he was taken to the central station, it was held that the two officers in charge of the patrol wagon were liable, along with the arresting officer, for false imprisonment.

(A Treatise on Arrest and False Imprisonment by Charles A. Weisman)

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