What is considered Unlawful Imprisonment in Arizona?

by Aaron Black • August 08, 2019

HandcuffedUnlawful imprisonment, also known as false imprisonment, can occur in numerous situations that some people may not recognize as a crime until they’re arrested.

Arizona’s law, Arizona Revised Statute §13-1303(A), states that unlawful imprisonment happens when somebody “knowingly” restrains another person.

Let’s break down this crime.
  • Unlawful: When police detain or restrain a person, authorities must have sufficient probable cause or reasonable suspicion that a crime is planned, is underway, or has happened. They also need a valid arrest warrant properly executed. If police don’t act in accordance with the law, then the detainment and arrest is unlawful, as cited in section B of this statute, no matter how much or how little time has passed while the person was restrained.
  • Bounded: This element of the crime is committed when the aggressor acts to restrain or confine a person against that person’s will in a bounded area such as a home, a vehicle, a fenced backyard, any place that has a physical boundary and even withholding the detainee’s property to prevent leaving.

    A door that’s locked forms a bounded area. A place is bounded if freedom of movement is blocked in all directions. A place is not bounded if there is a way to escape but remains bounded if the way to escape presents a risk of physical harm.

    For example, in a recent case out of North Carolina a woman told police that her boyfriend beat her while driving on a highway and she unsuccessfully tried to jump out of the window of the moving car.

    If the aggressor threatens to harm the family if the detainee leaves, or if the detainee is threatened with immediate physical harm, these threats also form a bounded area. Judges will weigh in if the person threatened justly feared being harmed. However, merely threatening someone with imprisonment doesn’t qualify as unlawful imprisonment.
  • Knowingly: This is intending to unlawfully imprison someone. The aggressor must have (1) willfully resolved to break the law and (2) carried out the restraint (3) causing the victim to be confined without consent and (4) that the person being confined was fully aware of the confinement.

The ‘Shopkeepers Privilege’

In shoplifting situations the proprietors of stores are protected by the shopkeepers privilege doctrine. This means that the store’s manager or loss prevention employee who reasonably believes that a person in the store is shoplifting or attempting to steal can lawfully detain the suspect.

However, the detention must be conducted in a reasonable manner and place, and the duration of the detention must be reasonable while the store’s person in charge interviews the suspect during the time it takes for law enforcement to arrive. The appearance of a person suspected of shopping is problematic in that profiling can be alleged by the suspected shopper.

The shoplifting suspect who is detained but not arrested or charged may have a successful civil lawsuit for financial compensation. But the shopkeeper has an “affirmative defense” against prosecution if credible evidence is presented supporting the decision to detain. An affirmative defense negates criminal or civil liability.

Domestic Violence & False Imprisonment

As witnessed by the North Carolina woman who tried to escape her boyfriend from a moving car, unlawful imprisonment often occurs in domestic violence cases when tempers are hot and fear real.

Domestic relationships are defined in Arizona law as marriage; common law marriage; a child of the defendant’s regardless if parents currently live together or have shared the same household; in a dating relationship including engagement with the defendant; a current or former household member; and an individual who is a parent, stepparent, child or stepchild who is or has been in a living situation with the defendant.

Unlawful Imprisonment Defenses

The following defenses are allowed under Arizona law.
  • Voluntary consent: The alleged victim consented to the confinement without being under duress or coercion.
  • Justified imprisonment: The person conducting the confinement has reasonable grounds that allowed the confinement.
  • Police privilege falls under defenses.

Unlawful Imprisonment Penalties

Arizona statute prosecutes this offense as a class 6 felony, the least serious felony offense. If the person detained is voluntarily released without physical injury at a safe place, the crime is reduced to a class 1 misdemeanor, the most serious of the misdemeanor range.

A felony conviction has severe outcomes including significant fines and incarceration followed by community service and probationary restrictions ordered by the court. Beyond those, the convicted felon cannot vote in state and federal elections and the Second Amendment right is revoked. While trying to rebuild their lives college applications can be rejected, a job can be lost or hard to get and it can be difficult to rent a place to live.

Defending False Imprisonment Charges

You can see the penalties for unlawful imprisonment can be life changing. If you’re charged with unlawful imprisonment you’ll need an experienced criminal defense attorney who has defended many of these cases.

The defense begins with a critical eye examining the police report and forensic evidence for flaws such as omissions and fabrications. The defense conducts its own investigation of the case challenging the admission of evidence, the credibility of the alleged victim and other witnesses and their statements.

The defense’s goal is a dismissal but if the state has a strong case, it may be possible to negotiate a plea agreement with the prosecution to reduce the charge with less harsh punishments.

Free Legal Consultation

If you or a loved one is suspected or arrested for unlawful imprisonment, don’t second guess the situation. The impacts of a conviction are too serious.

Contact Phoenix Criminal Defense Attorney Aaron Black or call (480)729-1683 for a free telephonic consultation. Aaron defends clients in all city, state and federal courts and is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
In light of the Coronavirus pandemic, I wanted to inform clients and potential clients I am still available for consultations. I am always available by phone, text and/or email. We can also use Facetime for social distancing. The criminal justice system is not stopping due to COVID-19.

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