What is Unlawful Imprisonment?

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  • Written By: Anna B. Smith
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 March 2020
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Unlawful imprisonment is the restraint of one person by another against the victim's will in such a manner as to risk bodily injury or harm to that person. This type of crime may be committed when one person is moved by another to a new location not of his own choosing and held there against his will. Any type of restraint performed by someone who is not authorized by the law to do so may be considered unlawful, especially if the act of holding the other person runs the risk of causing injury or death. The punishments for this type of crime vary depending on the laws of the country in which the act was perpetrated.

Restraining someone means that one person prevents another from moving from one place to another. This may be accomplished by physically binding that person, through use of intimidation tactics or the threat of violence, or by locking him in a location from which he cannot escape. This is considered unlawful if the individual restraining the other has no legal authority over that person. A police officer, for example, is authorized by the law to restrict the movements of criminals. He can place a criminal in handcuffs and transport him to a jail cell where the criminal is not allowed to leave without being guilty of unlawful imprisonment.


Several criteria regarding the way in which the restraint occurred must be met before someone can be convicted of unlawful imprisonment. The restraint committed must be intentional and not accidental or as a result of another event. The person doing the restraining should understand at the time that he did not have any legal right to hold the other person. The act of restricting the victim's movements exposed that person to permanent injury, disfigurement, or death.

An individual may also be considered a victim of unlawful imprisonment if he has been moved to a different location and kept there against his will. For example, if one person holds another at gun or knife point and forces that person to accompany him to a new location without the victim's desired consent, he has broken the law. The victim is, in this type of situation, under duress and in fear for his personal safety from the attacker. His movements have been restricted against his will, during transportation and upon arrival, and by someone who does not have the legal prerogative to commit such an act.

Children and mentally handicapped adults who agree to go with their captors and are not allowed to leave are victims of unlawful imprisonment. The person attempting to move the child or handicapped individual must first receive permission from the parent or legal guardian to avoid breaking the law. The one being moved in this type of situation is not considered legally capable of determining what is best for his or her personal well being. If the parent or guardian has not given consent, she can file criminal charges against the person attempting to take the child or handicapped adult, though the individual being moved may have agreed to the request.


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