What Is Unlawful Imprisonment In Domestic Violence Cases?

In domestic violence cases, false imprisonment is when the alleged abuser physically detains their victim either by using physical force or threatening violence against them if they left their home or current location.

The legal definition of false imprisonment is the unlawful restraint of another unwilling person without legal justification [1]. False imprisonment is a felony charge and is considered an intentional tort, which means it is a wrongful act committed with the intent to harm someone else.

What Is Considered False Imprisonment In Washington State?

In domestic violence cases, defendants can be charged with false imprisonment if they prevent their victims from leaving their current location or the victim’s freedom of movement is restricted. In Washington State, domestic violence is defined between two household members or two intimate partners, so this false imprisonment may happen in the victim’s own home and would be committed by a loved one or family member [2].

During the case, a state prosecutor will need to prove that the defendant stopped the victim from leaving their location. They’ll have to prove this was against their will and that the defendant achieved this imprisonment through either coercion, threats, violence or restraints [3].

It’s important to note that physical force or physical restraints, like handcuffs or rope, is not necessary to prove a false imprisonment charge. If the defendant made a threat of violence it can be seen as a legitimate reason for the victim to not be able to leave because they feared for their safety or someone else’s if they left.

During the trial, a prosecutor will also need to prove that a reasonable person would believe they could not leave and were being held against their will [4].

How Is False Imprisonment Different From Kidnapping In Washington State?

False imprisonment differs from a kidnapping charge, but can later evolve into kidnapping. False imprisonment becomes kidnapping when the aggressor moves the victim some distance from the original place they were imprisoned, or a significant amount of time has passed [5]. It’s possible for a defendant to be charged with both false imprisonment and kidnapping. Kidnapping is considered a more serious offense and depending on the circumstances ranks as a Class A or Class B felony.

What Is the Penalty For Being Convicted Of False Imprisonment In Washington State?

False Imprisonment is a Class C Felony in Washington State, therefore it is a very serious charge [6]. Defendants who are convicted as an adult face a fine up to $10,000 paired with potential jail time based on the severity of the case. Felonies can carry a sentence of life in prison.

What Should I Do If I’m Involved In A False Imprisonment Case?

If you’re involved in a false imprisonment case, you’ll want to be prepared with evidence to help you win your case. Start by quickly booking an appointment with a trusted attorney at Priest Family Law.

Our team has experience navigating the nuances of false imprisonment charges. We know that a false imprisonment charge is often just one of many charges in a domestic violence case. We understand domestic violence cases are deeply personal and can help you navigate your best next steps to succeed in the courtroom.


[1] “What Is False Imprisonment?” Nolo.com. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/what-false-imprisonment.html

[2] “Domestic Violence/Domestic Abuse Definitions And Relationships.” National Conference Of State Legislators. https://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/domestic-violence-domestic-abuse-definitions-and-relationships.aspx

[3] Rooth, Jay. “Understanding Domestic Abuse Charges: False Imprisonment.” Lawyers.com, 7, Feb. 2018. https://blogs.lawyers.com/attorney/domestic-violence/partner-4-45446/

[4] “What Is False Imprisonment?” Nolo.com. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/what-false-imprisonment.html

[5] “What Is False Imprisonment?” Nolo.com. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/what-false-imprisonment.html

[6] “RCW 9A.40.040.” Washington State Legislature. https://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=9A.40.040