What is Wrongful Imprisonment?

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  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 12 February 2020
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The exact definition of wrongful imprisonment can vary from one jurisdiction to another. In some places, the offense is referred to as false imprisonment. The essence of the offense is generally the same. It involves containing a person within a certain space against the individual’s will and without the proper authority to do so. In some jurisdictions, wrongful imprisonment is not only a crime, but it is also a civil offense. This offense may be committed by strangers, family members, or law enforcers.

In most societies, people have a right to certain liberties, including movement. It is usually considered unlawful and unjust for one party to detain another without proper cause or authority. When this happens, it may result in an offense formally known as wrongful imprisonment.

The term imprisonment may lead people to assume that this offense involves containing a person in a small space that is secured with bars, such as a cell. While that is one example of wrongful imprisonment, it is inaccurate to believe that the offense is limited to those circumstances. A person who is falsely imprisoned may be held in a vehicle, a home, or even an outdoor area such as a yard. The offense is based less on the place where a person is held than it is on the inability of a person to leave when he or she is ready.


When wrongful imprisonment occurs among family members, it is usually an adult-on-adult crime. Children are generally not permitted to hold their parents liable for this offense. There may be some instances when other family members such as aunts or older siblings may be held accountable for falsely imprisoning a child. This, however, depends on the situation because these individuals may have been granted authority over the child.

In places where crimes are classified as either misdemeanors or felonies, false imprisonment tends to be a misdemeanor. Common consequences include fines and periods of incarceration that do not exceed a year. When a person successfully proves wrongful imprisonment as a civil offense, he or she may be awarded monetary damages. These can result from actual financial harm, such as the inability to report to work to earn wages and medical costs resulting from attempts to escape.

In many jurisdictions, people who suffer wrongful imprisonment at the hands of law enforcement agencies are permitted to file civil wrongful imprisonment cases. Certain criteria usually must be met. When they are, in some cases the laws in those jurisdictions have pre-outlined compensation guidelines for the offense.


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