PC 236-237

False Imprisonment and Human Trafficking

In general, false imprisonment is the confinement of a person to a bounded area without their consent. However, California has a very specific definition for criminal false imprisonment in Penal Code sections 236, 236.1, and 237.

Section 236 defines False Imprisonment as: “the unlawful violation of the personal liberty of another.” Take note of that that it does not matter why one’s personal liberty was violated; the only fact that matters is that it was violated.

Section 236.1 (a) defines false imprisonment and/or human trafficking as: “the violation of the personal liberty of another with the intent to effect or maintain a felony violation of Section… 266h (pimping), 266i (pandering), 267 (kidnapping for prostitution), 311.4 (hiring minors for pornography), or 518 (extortion and/or blackmail), or to obtain forced labor or services.”

Section 236.1 (d)(1) provides the definition of “unlawful deprivation of the liberty of another.” However, this specific definition only applies to 236.1; the definition is much broader for section 236.

An excerpt of 236.1 (d)(1) is provided below.

For purposes of this section, unlawful deprivation or violation of the personal liberty of another includes substantial and sustained restriction of another’s liberty accomplished through fraud, deceit, coercion, violence, duress, menace, or threat of unlawful injury to the victim or to another person, under circumstances where the person receiving or apprehending the threat reasonably believes that it is likely that the person making the threat would carry it out. “

The bolded portion shows the methods by which human trafficking can be achieved and includes the standard the law will use to examine the conduct if it involves violence or a threat of violence. Whether or not a person is responsible for using the threat of violence against the alleged victim, or another person, would hinge on whether or not a reasonable person would believe that it is likely that the person making the threat would carry it out.


Section 236

Violations of section 236 are punishable by up to 364 days in jail, a fine of up to $1,000.00, or both.

Section 236.1

Violations of section 236.1 are punishable by up to 8 years in state prison depending on the circumstances.


California provides some defenses to those accused of false imprisonment. These include what has been called the “shopkeeper’s privilege” and/or “citizens arrest.”

Citizen’s arrest requires that you first:

  • Witness “a public offense committed or attempted;” OR
  • The person arrested committed a felony, even if you did not witness it; AND
  • You must have “reasonable cause” to believe that the person arrested is the person that committed the felony.

It is very likely your case is far more complex, so please don’t rely on this webpage alone. Consult a licensed criminal defense attorney to help you understand what this could mean for your case.

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