Sun. May 26th, 2024

Penal Code § 236 PC – False Imprisonment – California Law

California Penal Code § 236 PC defines the crime of “false imprisonment” as unlawfully restraining, detaining, or confining a person against his or her will. The offense can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony and is punishable by up to three years in jail.


  • grabbing a spouse by her shoulders during an argument and preventing her from leaving a room.
  • locking a person in a closet.
  • a police officer arresting and detaining a suspect without a warrant or legal authority.


Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several defense strategies to contest false imprisonment charges. Some of these include showing:

  • you had the legal authority to restrain the alleged victim,
  • the “victim” consented to the imprisonment,
  • you were acting in self-defense,
  • the shopkeeper’s privilege applies, and/or
  • you were exercising your parental rights.


Many violations of California Penal Code Section 236 are charged as misdemeanors. The potential penalties include:

  • custody in county jail for up to one year, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.

A prosecutor could charge the crime as a felony if you restrained someone while using

  • violence,
  • menace,
  • fraud or
  • deceit.

Felony false imprisonment is punishable by up to three years in jail.

1. How does California law define “false imprisonment”?

California’s false imprisonment laws set forth two forms of false imprisonment. These include:

  • misdemeanor false imprisonment, and
  • felony false imprisonment.

A prosecutor must prove the following elements to convict you of misdemeanor false imprisonment successfully:

  1. you intentionally and unlawfully restrained, detained, or confined a person, and
  2. your act made that person stay or go somewhere against that person’s will.1

Example: Married couple Patty and Harry are having a fight while in their car. Harry tries to leave but Patty turns on the child’s lock so Harry cannot escape.

This qualifies as misdemeanor false imprisonment because Harry is deprived of his freedom of movement against his will. Even if Patty unlocks the door after a few seconds, she could still face charges for the short time she held Harry in the car against his will.

For felony false imprisonment, a prosecutor must prove the following to secure a conviction:

  1. you intentionally and unlawfully restrained, confined, or detained someone by violence, menacefraud, or deceit, and
  2. you made the other person stay or go somewhere against that person’s will.2

A few definitions here are helpful:

  • an act is done “against a person’s will” if that person does not consent to the act. To consent, a person must act freely and voluntarily and know the nature of the act.3
  • violence” means using physical force that is greater than the force reasonably necessary to restrain someone. Violence may include forms of domestic violence.4
  • menace” means a verbal or physical threat of harm, including using a deadly weapon. The threat of harm may be express or implied.5

Example: Married couple Patty and Harry are having a fight at home. Harry tries to leave, but Patty threatens to shoot him if he does, so Harry stays put. This qualifies as felony false imprisonment because Patty used “menace” to restrain Harry’s liberty.

Note that false imprisonment does not require that the person being restrained be confined in jail or state prison. False imprisonment can occur in any location.

Also note that false imprisonment is a general intent crime. This means you can be convicted of this crime even if you did not intend to confine someone unlawfully. All that matters is that your intentional actions resulted in the person being unlawfully confined.6

Example: Beth pranks Ben by telling him there was a chemical attack, and they take refuge in Beth’s basement for several hours. Beth never specifically intended to confine Ben against his will, though her lie made Ben think it was unsafe to leave. Therefore, Beth could face charges for false imprisonment.

2. What are some common defenses to Penal Code 236 PC?

You have the right to contest a charge of false imprisonment by raising a legal defense.

Six common defenses include:

  1. legal authority to restrain.
  2. consent.
  3. self-defense.
  4. shopkeeper’s privilege.
  5. parental rights.
  6. false allegations

2.1. Legal authority to restrain

This defense is often raised by police officers or law enforcement personnel in false imprisonment cases involving unlawful arrests and detainments. There can be no false imprisonment if you have the legal authority to restrain another person.

For example, a police officer will not face PC 236 charges if he stops and arrests a person while acting according to a valid arrest warrant.

Sometimes a civilian has the right to restrain another person by making a lawful citizen’s arrest.

2.2. Consent

It is always a valid defense for you to show that the so-called victim was there voluntarily and consented to be

  • restrained,
  • detained, or
  • confined.

Helpful evidence to demonstrate consent may include:

  • video or audio recordings,
  • written communications (such as text messages or email), and
  • eyewitness testimony.

2.3. Self-defense

California law allows you to use proportional force in defense of yourself and others if you reasonably believe in good faith that you or others are about to sustain immediate or great bodily injury.

If the victim was threatening to injure themself or commit suicide, you could claim “defense of others” if you confined them to a space where they could not inflict self-harm (and you then contacted help as soon as possible).

2.4. Shopkeeper’s privilege

This defense is available to store owners and shopkeepers who have probable cause that a customer is guilty of shoplifting. The privilege allows you to detain the suspect to investigate. The investigation, though, must be carried out

  • for a reasonable time and
  • in a reasonable manner.7

“Reasonableness” will be determined by the facts of a specific case.

2.5. Parental rights

Parents have the right to discipline their children in ways that restrict their freedom of movement, such as

  • grounding” them or
  • imposing “timeouts.”

As long as the children do not sustain injuries or undue suffering, you can lawfully confine your children against their will. This also ensures that you are not acting with any criminal or malicious intent.

2.6. False allegations

Perhaps someone is falsely accusing you out of anger, jealousy, revenge, or a misunderstanding. Or perhaps you are a victim of mistaken identity, and the victim incorrectly picked you out of a lineup.

Video and eyewitness evidence would be invaluable for proving you did nothing wrong.

A inmate posing for a mugshot. A conviction for Penal Code 236 PC can lead to up to 3 years in jail.

A violation of PC 236 can result in a fine and/or jail time.

3. What are the penalties?

California Penal Code 237 is the State’s statute that sets forth the penalties for false imprisonment. Under this section, false imprisonment is a type of wobbler offense, meaning that it can be punished as either

  • misdemeanor or
  • felony.

Misdemeanor false imprisonment, which is false imprisonment accomplished without violence or menace, is punishable by:

  • fine not exceeding $1,000, and/or
  • imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year.8

False imprisonment will be charged as a felony when the crime is effected by violence, menace, fraud, or deceit.

Felony false imprisonment is punishable by up to three years in jail and up to $10,000.9 The maximum sentence is four years if the victim was :

  • an elderly person, or
  • a dependent adult.10

Note sentencing enhancements apply to this crime:

Aggravating factor Additional prison sentence
The false imprisonment was done for a criminal street gang’s benefit 4 years to life depending on the circumstances of the case 11
A gun was used 10 years 12
A gun was discharged 25 years 13
The victim was seriously injured by a gun Life 13



The crime of “false imprisonment” is described under California Penal Code 236. A false imprisonment charge can be filed against you in a situation where you unlawfully deprive someone of their personal liberty. This essentially means intentionally detaining another person without a legal right to do so, and they aren’t allowed to leave when they want to. This would be considered falsely imprisoned.

Penal Code 236 false imprisonment is similar to Penal Code 207 kidnapping charges. However, a kidnapping charge requires moving someone a substantial distance. When someone is simply held or restrained against their will, it’s a false imprisonment offense.

Our criminal defense lawyers have seen a wide range of situations where individuals have been charged with PC 236 false imprisonment. For example, these criminal charges are common in domestic violence incidents. For instance, during a heated confrontation, a husband might grab his wife to prevent her from leaving the home.

Another Penal Code 236 false imprisonment offense includes a situation where married couples are riding in a car and become involved in a heated argument. The wife, wanting to get away from the argument asks to be let out of the vehicle.

The husband refuses and continues with the confrontation. In this scenario, this act could be considered the crime of false imprisonment.

It should be noted that PC 236 false imprisonment can be charged when confinement, detention, or restraint only lasted for a short amount of time.

It’s also important to note that while a false imprisonment charge is not considered as serious as a kidnapping charge, it is still a serious offense that can carry harsh penalties.

Penal Code 236 false imprisonment is a California “wobbler” offense that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony crime, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case. Aggravated trespassing is defined under Penal Code 601 PC.

To give readers a better understanding of false imprisonment law described under Penal Code 236, our criminal defense attorneys are providing an overview below.


California Penal Code 236 PC defines false imprisonment as the unlawful violation of the personal liberty of someone else. To violate someone’s person’s liberty means a sustained restriction of their freedom using violence, duress, fraud, deceit.

It also includes using a threat of unlawful injury in circumstances where someone receiving the threat reasonably believes the person making the threat has the ability to carry it out.

In order for the prosecutor to convict you of misdemeanor a false imprisonment charge, they must be able to prove all the elements of the crime listed under CALCRIM 1242 Jury Instructions:

  • You intentionally and unlawfully detained, restrained, or confined someone
  • Your act made someone stay or go somewhere against their will

An act is done against someone’s will if that person didn’t consent to the act freely and voluntarily and knew the nature of the act.


If convicted of Penal Code 236 false imprisonment, it’s normally a misdemeanor offense that carries up to one year in a county jail, and fine up to $1,000.

However, you could face felony false imprisonment charges, see CALCRIM 1240, if violence, menace, fraud, or deceit was used in the restraint.  Menace is the threat of violence, but doesn’t always have to be verbal threats, but could be implied by your behavior.

If convicted of a PC 236 felony crime, you are facing up to three years in a California state prison, and a fine up to $10,000. source

California Penal Code 236/237: False Imprisonment

Legal Definition: False imprisonment is the unlawful violation of the personal liberty of another.

For a person to be convicted of a violation of PC 236 the prosecution must prove the following:

  1. You intentionally and unlawfully restrained/detained/confined a person; AND
  2. Your act made that person stay or go somewhere against that person’s will.

What does this mean?

This doesn’t mean what you may think because of the word Imprisonment – there is no actual requirement that the person is actually restrained in some kind of jail or prison. For this charge to be a felony, in addition to the above, you must also use violence or menace against the other party you’re restraining. Violence in false imprisonment means when you use physical force against a person that is greater than the amount necessary to restrain a person. Menace means verbal or threatening actions that expressly/impliedly communicate a threat of harm. An example of using violence could be physically grabbing and holding another person, making them unable to leave. Using menace would be you telling another person that if they move, you will kill them.

The charge itself is relatively straightforward, it simply means you would allow another person to leave against their will, and without their consent. An act is done against a person’s will if that person does not consent to the act. In order to consent, a person must act freely and voluntarily and know the nature of the act.


PC 236 is a wobbler offense. A wobbler offense is one that, based on certain mitigating or aggravating facts, can be charged as a misdemeanor offense, or a felony offense. If you are convicted of a misdemeanor offense, you could be sentenced to up to one year in County Jail. If you are convicted of a felony offense, you could be sentenced for upwards of 16 months, two years or three years in State Prison. You would be required to serve 50% of that sentence.

Common Defenses

  1. Statute of Limitations
  2. Insufficient Evidence
  3. Mistake of Fact
  4. Violation of your Rights

One of the most common ways to defend against this crime is to attack the allegation that you used violence or menace to restrain a person. Menace is easily dispelled if you never say anything to the other person. Violence is almost always arguable, but certain factors that matter are the size of yourself, and the victim, the history and relationship between you and the other party, and whether you have made threats to the other person in the past.




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At issue in Rosenfeld v. New Jersey (1972) was whether a conviction under state law prohibiting profane language in a public place violated a man's First Amendment's protection of free speech. The Supreme Court vacated the man's conviction and remanded the case for reconsideration in light of its recent rulings about fighting words. The man had used profane language at a public school board meeting. (Illustration via Pixabay, public domain) Epic Parents SCOTUS Ruling Parental Right$ Help Click Here

Judge’s & Prosecutor’s Jurisdiction– SCOTUS RULINGS on

Prosecutional Misconduct – SCOTUS Rulings re: Prosecutors

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The PROPOSED Parental Rights Amendment
to the US CONSTITUTION Click Here to visit their site

The proposed Parental Rights Amendment will specifically add parental rights in the text of the U.S. Constitution, protecting these rights for both current and future generations.

The Parental Rights Amendment is currently in the U.S. Senate, and is being introduced in the U.S. House.