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In this lesson, we’ll define false imprisonment, introduce cases involving false imprisonment, and discuss possible charges that people might face when charged with this crime.


In the last fifteen years, two separate cases involving false imprisonment captivated the nation. In 2002, Elizabeth Smart disappeared from her family home. She was found nine months later, after being held captive and sexually abused by her captor. More recently, three women were freed from the home of Ariel Castro.

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He abducted each woman separately and held them captive in his home for several years. These women were sexually abused as well, with one of them bearing his child. All of the victims in both of these cases wanted to leave their captors but were unable to do so. All four were victims of false imprisonment.False imprisonment is a crime that involves a person holding a victim against his or her will. The victim can be made to stay where the perpetrator wants by being held there physically, being threatened, or being coerced to stay. If the victim is in a place he or she doesn’t want to be and someone is making him or her stay there, it is possibly false imprisonment.

This isn’t always the case, however. For example, false imprisonment does not apply to situations were a convict is imprisoned or a security officer has legal justification to hold a shoplifting suspect until police arrive.

Kidnapping vs. False Imprisonment

It is important to note that there is a difference between false imprisonment and kidnapping. With false imprisonment, the victim is simply not allowed to leave.

He or she may be physically restrained, but he or she is not moved from one location to another. Kidnapping is different because the victim is actually abducted and moved. In other words, kidnapping is a combination of two crimes: abduction and false imprisonment.


There are civil and criminal consequences that a captor may face when he or she has falsely imprisoned a victim. For example, the captor can face a civil lawsuit due to injuries the victim sustained, in addition to facing criminal charges. In some cases, he or she may face misdemeanor charges, and in other cases, he or she may face felony charges.

Each case of false imprisonment is different, and the jurisdiction where the incident occurred will determine what charges the captor will face. If a perpetrator is convicted of a misdemeanor, he or she can face punishments such as jail time, probation, and fines. If he or she is convicted of a felony, he or she could face time in prison.


One case that involves false imprisonment that led to a civil lawsuit is the case of McCann v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Ms. McCann filed suit against Wal-Mart Stores after the following incident occurred: As Ms. McCann was leaving the Wal-Mart store one day with her children, store employees stopped them and wouldn’t let them leave.

The employees thought the McCann children were the children that had been involved in a recent shoplifting incident. The group was not allowed to leave until the store security officer came to identify the children. It was discovered that the McCann children were not the children that the employees thought they were, and the family was finally allowed to leave.

Since the McCanns were held at the store and not allowed to leave without a good reason, they were able to file a civil lawsuit against Wal-Mart.In 2014, Craig Olson and Oriana Groppetti pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges for false imprisonment of Groppetti’s husband, Derek. The Groppetti’s were going through a rough patch due to the husband having an affair with a co-worker. They were visiting Oriana’s family in Iowa and became involved in a domestic dispute one evening. The next day, Derek found himself locked in a grain tower. Oriana and her father stated they had just planned to give him time to calm down so the arguing spouses could have a discussion about their marriage.

Derek got out of the first grain tower and Oriana found him walking in the area. After an attempt to lock him away in another grain tower was unsuccessful and Mr. Groppetti managed to call 9-1-1, the police became involved.

Case Analysis

The two aforementioned cases are different in many ways. The McCann case involves a civil suit, while the Groppetti incident is a criminal case. In order for any case to truly involve false imprisonment, certain elements have to exist:

  • False imprisonment does not exist if there is a legal justification behind one person detaining another.
  • The person being held must actually be held against his or her will. If he or she isn’t being held against his will, then false imprisonment has not occurred.
  • The person who is being confined must believe that he or she is being confined for false imprisonment to exist.

  • The person who is holding a victim against his will must actually be intentionally keeping the victim from leaving.

In the McCann case, Ms. McCann and her children were not physically held at the store.

However, their route out of the store was blocked by store employees, and they were made to stay until the security officer arrived. In Derek Groppetti’s case, he told the court that he was not held against his will, but text messages between Oriana Groppetti and her father told a different story. In each case, the victims were unable to leave a particular area of their own free will. Both cases are bizarre, with none of the victims coming to any real harm. However, with both cases, the court found that false imprisonment existed.

Lesson Summary

Let’s review what we learned…False imprisonment is a serious crime involving a victim being held against his will. A perpetrator may use physical force, threats, or coercion to keep the victim in that location. If a convict is serving time in prison or a security officer is keeping a shoplifter at a store while waiting for police, false imprisonment is not occurring. The perpetrator must be intentionally holding a victim, the victim must believe he can’t leave, and the victim must actually want to leave for false imprisonment to exist.False imprisonment could lead to misdemeanor or felony charges. If convicted, fines, jail time, probation, or even prison time could result.

Additionally, a civil lawsuit could even be filed against a perpetrator, leading to monetary damages being awarded to a victim.

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