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False Imprisonment in Washington

False imprisonment is the unlawful confinement of a person without his or her valid consent. We will take a look at Washington's version of the crime of false imprisonment and discuss the elements that a prosecutor must show in order to prove that charge.

Breaking Down the Charge of Unlawful Imprisonment

In the Revised Code of Washington, which is the compilation of all the permanent laws in force in Washington State, the crime commonly known as false imprisonment is called “unlawful imprisonment.” See RCW 9A.40.040. According to the Revised Code, a person is guilty of unlawful imprisonment in Washington if he or she “knowingly restrains another person.”

  • “Knowingly”
  • “Restrains”

In order for you to be found guilty of unlawful imprisonment, a prosecutor will have to show that you knowingly restrained another person. The term “knowingly” is a legal term of art that describes the level of culpability – or the degree to which society will hold a person responsible for their actions – necessary to prove each material element of a criminal offense.

According to RCW 9A.08.010(1)(b), a person acts “knowingly” in either of two situations:

  • He or she is aware of the facts or circumstances that make up the particular conduct of an offense; OR
  • He or she has information that would lead a reasonable person in the same situation to believe that such facts or circumstances exist.

Essentially, to act “knowingly” means that you were either aware of the conduct or circumstances that the statute makes illegal, or that a reasonable person in your situation would have been so aware. The inclusion of the “reasonable person” situation makes it so that individuals cannot simply claim that they did not know what they were doing. If the prosecutor can convince a judge or jury that a reasonable person in your situation would have known what they were doing, the element of “knowingly” will be met.

If you are charged with unlawful imprisonment, the prosecutor will also have to show that you “restrained” the other person at issue in the dispute. “Restrain” is defined under RCW 9A.40.010(6) as “to restrict a person's movements without consent and without legal authority in a manner which interferes substantially with his or her liberty.”

Determining whether someone has “restricted a person's movements” is a fact-specific inquiry. Some examples are straightforward, such as locking a person in a room or handcuffing them to a chair. Other examples are less obvious, like innocent customers present at a convenience store during a robbery who are told by the robber to get down on the ground and stay there. In the robbery example, the other customers' freedom to move around has been restricted by the perceived threat of violence should they move, so they have been “restrained.”

The statute notes that restricting a person's movements is accomplished “without consent” if an individual uses “physical force, intimidation, or deception” in order to restrain the other person. See RCW 9A.40.010(6). Furthermore, if the person whose movement is being restrained is a child younger than sixteen years old, or is an incompetent person, any means of restricting their movement is considered “without consent,” even including the acquiescence of the victim.

The “without legal authority” element found in this definition is important as well – without that modifier, police officers and jail officials who lawfully detain people as part of their jobs could be subject to charges of false imprisonment, as people usually do not consent to being arrested or going to jail.

False Imprisonment is Different from Kidnapping

The crime of unlawful imprisonment is related to the more serious crime of kidnapping. In both cases, an actor is unlawfully restraining a victim through the use of force or threats. However, kidnapping requires an additional element that unlawful imprisonment does not: abduction. In order to be found guilty of kidnapping in Washington, a person much have “intentionally abducted” another person. See RCW 9A.40.020.

Under Washington law, to “abduct” someone means to restrain him or her in a specific way. According to RCW 9A.40.010(1), an individual “abducts” another person when they restrain that other person by either:

  • Hiding him or her in a place where he or she is not likely to be found, or
  • Using or threatening to use deadly force.

If prosecutors believe they can prove this additional element, they may charge a person with either first-degree or second-degree kidnapping, which are more serious felonies than unlawful imprisonment. Kidnapping in the first degree is a class A felony, which can be punished by life in prison, while kidnapping the second degree is a class B felony, which can be punished by ten years in prison.

Penalties for Unlawful Imprisonment

Unlawful imprisonment is a class C felony under Washington law. Class C felonies are punishable by confinement in a state correctional facility for up to five years. See RCW 9A.40.040(2) andRCW 9A.20.021(1)(c). Adult offenders can also face a fine of up to $10,000, instead of, or in addition to, the potential jail time that accompanies this crime.

“Let My Extensive Experience as a Former Prosecutor Work For You.”

As discussed above, the crime of unlawful imprisonment includes a number of elements that prosecutors must prove in order for you to be convicted. If you have been accused of unlawful imprisonment, you need to speak with an attorney as soon as possible. Contact the Law Office of Steve Karimi today – our firm is dedicated to protecting your constitutional rights and freedom. Experienced criminal defense attorney Steve Karimi will take all measures necessary to fight for your legal rights and to advocate for your best interests. As a former prosecutor, he understands the options available to you and will use his experience to achieve the best possible resolution for you.

If you or a loved one has been accused of unlawful imprisonment in King County, Snohomish County, Skagit County, Whatcom County, or Kittitas County, contact the Law Office of Steve Karimi today at 206-660-6200 to schedule a free and confidential initial consultation.

Contact Us

If you were arrested or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Seattle or surrounding areas of Washington State, the Law Offices of Steve Karimi can help. Call 206-660-6200 24 hours a day for a free consultation.

Seattle Defense Lawyer

Named a "rising star" in criminal defense by Washington Law and Politics magazine, Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor for King County who uses his insight into prosecution strategies to protect his clients' rights in criminal court.