Elements of false imprisonment in law enforcement

Updated February 21, 2017

False imprisonment is a crime characterised by holding a person without her consent or the legal right to detain a person. The crime of false imprisonment can be committed by a private citizen or by a law enforcement officer without the legal right to hold a suspect.

False Imprisonment

The crime of false imprisonment is often prosecuted as a misdemeanour with a civil case attempting to recover damages for the crime accompanying the criminal charge. After being held against her will in any situation, a person can attempt to press charges for false imprisonment; physical force need not be part of the imprisonment. Even when the imprisoned person agrees to be held through coercion or the threat of force, the agreement to be detained is not seen as legal.

Law Enforcement

A law enforcement officer must gain the legal right to detain a suspect. When a legal document -- either a search or arrest warrant -- is obtained using illegal or deceptive methods, the arrest of a person is false imprisonment. A law enforcement officer or private citizen can commit the false imprisonment crime. When a suspect is illegally detained in law enforcement custody for a prolonged period, a case of false imprisonment can be brought against the law enforcement agency. This is often found in cases when a person is held in custody for too long before being charged with a crime.

Wrongly Convicted

When a court of law charges a person with a crime and a law enforcement agency detains that person, a wrongly convicted person can be falsely imprisoned. In this case, the detained person will not be released from law enforcement custody until new evidence proving his innocence is found. In some cases of false imprisonment, individuals can bring both criminal and civil charges against a law enforcement organisation.


False imprisonment is often ended by the person falsely imprisoned being released from detainment and damages being awarded by a civil court. The prosecution of a false imprisonment charge can only be completed following the release of the detained person, with monetary damages usually awarded by a court to the person who was falsely imprisoned.

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About the Author

Paul Cartmell began his career as a writer for documentaries and fictional films in the United Kingdom in the mid-1990s. Working in documentary journalism, Cartmell wrote about a wide variety of subjects including racism in professional sports. Cartmell attended the University of Lincoln and London Metropolitan University, gaining degrees in journalism and film studies.