ARS § 13-1303 is the Arizona statute that defines the crime of unlawful imprisonment. You commit this offense if you knowingly restrain another person without consent and without legal authority. A violation of this law is a Class 6 felony punishable by up to two years in state prison.
Unlawful imprisonment is sometimes referred to as “false imprisonment.”
- knowingly locking a person in a closet.
- binding one’s arms and legs to a chair.
- forcing a person to remain in a locked car.
People facing a charge of unlawful imprisonment can challenge it with a legal defense. A few common defenses include accused people showing that they:
- did not act knowingly,
- acted in self defense, and/or
- are exempt under the law.
A violation of ARS 13-1303 is a Class 6 felony. The crime is punishable by up to two years in state prison.
But false imprisonment, pursuant to this statute, gets charged as a Class 1 misdemeanor if the defendant voluntarily released the “victim,” without injury, to a safe place prior to an arrest.
A Class 1 misdemeanor is punishable by up to six months in jail.
In this article, our criminal defense attorneys will discuss what the law is under this statute, defenses available if charged, the penalties for a conviction, and related crimes.
1. How does Arizona law define “unlawful imprisonment”?
A person in Arizona is guilty under this statute if a prosecutor successfully proves the following elements of false imprisonment:
- the defendant restrained another person, and
- he/she did so knowingly, or with knowledge of the unlawful restraint.1
For this section, “restrain” means that a defendant restricted a person’s movements in a manner that substantially interfered with that person’s liberty. The restraint can be imposed by moving the victim from one place to another or confining the victim. Additionally, the restraint must be done without consent and without legal authority.2
Note that restraint is without consent if it is accomplished by:
- physical force, serious physical injury, intimidation, or deception, or
- any means including acquiescence of the victim if the victim is a child under 18 years old or an incompetent person and the victim’s lawful custodian has not acquiesced in the movement or confinement.3
The language of this criminal code section sets forth two affirmative defenses where people are not guilty of a false imprisonment claim. Under these defenses, a person is innocent of a crime if:
- the restraint was accomplished by a peace officer/police officers or detention officer acting in good faith in the lawful performance of his duty, and
- the defendant is a relative of the person restrained and the defendant’s sole intent is to assume lawful custody of that person and the restraint was accomplished without physical injury.
Arizona law also states that a third defense to the crime of false imprisonment is the “shopkeeper’s privilege.” This defense applies if a store owner or its employee has probable cause to believe that someone was shoplifting in their store.4
In this situation, the merchant may engage in the willful detention of the suspect in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable time to allow for:
- the questioning of the person, and/or
- calling law enforcement.5
An alleged victim of false imprisonment can file a civil lawsuit against the offender as unlawful imprisonment is an intentional tort under Arizona law. A person can file this lawsuit even if the offender faces a criminal charge for the act.
2. Are there defenses to ARS 13-1303?
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several strategies to help defendants challenge criminal charges under this statute. Three common ones include a lawyer showing that the accused:
- acted without knowledge.
- acted in self-defense.
- was exempt under the law.
2.1 No Knowledge
Recall that people are only guilty under this statute if they knowingly restrain someone. This means it is always a defense for a defendant to show that he/she did not knowingly imprison some person.
Consider, for example, the scenario where a person is in a store’s back room with a door on it that has an automatic lock. If another party walks past and accidentally closes the door, he is not guilty under ARS 13-1303. This is because he did not knowingly restrain the other party.
Defendants can try to challenge a false imprisonment charge by showing that they restrained another person while acting in self-defense. Perhaps, for example, an accused had to restrain another person because they were acting in a threatening manner.
Defendants can often raise this defense provided that:
- they reasonably believed that they were in imminent danger of physical harm, and
- the force was necessary to stop the danger.
2.3 Exception under the law
The language of ARS 13-1303 sets forth two exceptions to the prohibitions against false imprisonment. The shopkeeper’s privilege also sets forth an additional exception. Therefore, a defendant can always use one of these to show that he/she is exempt under the law.
Other situations where it might be lawful to restrain a person include when:
- a person makes a lawful citizen’s arrest,
- a parent restrains an unruly child,
- a friend makes a person “sleep off” a drunken spell to help prevent the person from driving under the influence, and/or
- a person restrains someone after suspecting they want to commit a domestic violence crime.
3. What are the penalties?
A violation of this law is a Class 6 felony. The crime is punishable by a maximum state prison sentence of two years.6
People with an extensive criminal record, as opposed to first-time offenders, are more likely to get sentenced to the maximum penalty under this statute.
Per ARS 13-1303C, unlawful imprisonment is a Class 1 misdemeanor if:
- the defendant voluntarily released the “victim” without physical injury and to a safe place, and
- he/she did so before an arrest.7
A Class 1misdemeanor is punishable by up to six months in jail.
4. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to unlawful imprisonment. These are:
- kidnapping – ARS 13-1304,
- endangerment – ARS 13-1201, and/or
- threatening or intimidating – ARS 13-1202.
4.1 Kidnapping – ARS 13-1304
Under ARS 13-1304, kidnapping is the crime where:
- someone knowingly restrains another person, and
- he/she does so with some specific intent in mind (for example, an intent to hold the “victim” for ransom or as a hostage).
Unlike with ARS 13-1303, a person must restrain someone with some intent to violate this statute. Unlawful imprisonment focuses solely on restraint.
4.2 Endangerment – ARS 13-1201
Per ARS 13-1201, endangerment is the offense where people recklessly put someone at risk of imminent death or physical injury.
If a person is successful in restraining someone via the use of some threatened physical injury, then the police can charge the party with both:
- false imprisonment, and
4.3 Threatening or intimidating – ARS 13-1202
Per ARS 13-1202, threatening or intimidating is the crime where someone either:
- threatens to injure someone physically,
- threatens to cause a serious public inconvenience (such as the evacuation of a building), or
- threatens to injure another person to promote a street gang, a criminal syndicate, or a racketeering enterprise.
As with some forms of false imprisonment, threatening or intimidating is a Class 1 misdemeanor under Arizona law.
- Arizona Revised Statutes Title 13 Section 1303 Subsection A. The language of the statute reads as follows:A. A person commits unlawful imprisonment by knowingly restraining another person.
B. In any prosecution for unlawful imprisonment, it is a defense that:
1. The restraint was accomplished by a peace officer or detention officer acting in good faith in the lawful performance of his duty; or
2. The defendant is a relative of the person restrained and the defendant’s sole intent is to assume lawful custody of that person and the restraint was accomplished without physical injury.
C. Unlawful imprisonment is a class 6 felony unless the victim is released voluntarily by the defendant without physical injury in a safe place before arrest in which case it is a class 1 misdemeanor.
D. For the purposes of this section, “detention officer” means a person other than an elected official who is employed by a county, city or town and who is responsible for the supervision, protection, care, custody or control of inmates in a county or municipal correctional institution. Detention officer does not include counselors or secretarial, clerical or professionally trained personnel.
- ARS 13-1301(2). See also State v. Lawrence, 135 Ariz. 569 (1983).
- State v. Lawrence, 135 Ariz. 569 (1983).
- ARS 13-1805. See also Sonoran Desert Investigations, Inc. v. Miller, 213 Ariz. 274 (2006).
- See same.
- ARS 13-1303.
- ARS 13-1303C.