California Penal Code 210.5 PC makes it a crime to take or imprison a hostage as a means of avoiding capture or arrest. This is often referred to as using a “human shield.” The offense is prosecuted as a felony and carries a sentence of up to 8 years in state prison.
210.5 PC states that “Every person who commits the offense of false imprisonment against a person for purposes of protection from arrest…which substantially increases the risk of harm to the victim, or for purposes of using the person as a shield is punishable by imprisonment…for three, five, or eight years.1
The defendant went on a “shooting spree” at a hospital. During this time, he grabbed two women who were at the hospital by their necks and handcuffed them together and held them hostage. When the security guards came, he pointed his gun at the two women’s heads, and the security left. He then barricaded the three of them in a room before ultimately turning himself in.2
There are several legal defenses to fight a “false imprisonment to avoid arrest” charge. Some of these include:
- no imminent threat of arrest,
- no increased risk of harm,
- duress, and
- self-defense / defense of others
Penal Code 210.5 PC is a felony. If you are convicted of this offense, you face three, five or eight years in county jail.3 And, depending on the circumstances, you may face additional charges and penalties for a variety of related offenses such as
- kidnapping, and
- possibly even murder if a hostage is killed.
In this article, our California criminal defense attorneys 4 explain will discuss the following:
- 1. What does it mean to take a hostage to avoid arrest?
- 2. How can a defense attorney fight this charge?
- 3. What are the penalties for a Penal Code 210.5 PC conviction?
If, after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
You may also find helpful information in our related articles on California’s False Imprisonment Law; Wobblers; Misdemeanors; Felonies; Legal Defenses; Self-Defense / Defense of Others; Battery; Kidnapping; Murder.
Before we can present an overview of false imprisonment of a hostage, we need to define false imprisonment.
Penal Code 236 PC defines California false imprisonment as “the unlawful violation of the personal liberty of another”.5 In other words, you violate this law when you wrongfully
- confine, or
another person without his/her consent. This is the “generic” crime of false imprisonment. Penal Code 210.5 PC is much more specific.
You violate PC 210.5 California’s “false imprisonment to protect from arrest” law if you are facing the threat or risk of imminent arrest, and you falsely imprison another person to
- protect yourself from the arrest, or
- use him/her as a human shield,
if that imprisonment substantially increases the risk of harm to the victim.6
Essentially, this law is designed to protect against “hostage” type situations, where the victim is used as a bargaining tool for the captor to avoid arrest…either because
- the captor threatens to harm/kill the hostage if the police don’t let the captor go, or
- the captor believes the police will not harm the hostage if he/she uses him/her as a shield to escape.
Example: Defendants…who were California Youth Authority inmates…ran into the library, grabbed the librarian and put a metal “shank” to her neck, telling the California Youth Authority staff that they needed to provide a truck for them to escape the facility. They actually stabbed her in the stomach to show that they were serious about their threat to kill her if the staff didn’t comply.7
Compare this case to the following:
Defendant robbed the victim of her jewelry and cash and also carjacked her car, keeping her inside. He then drove her to an alley where he tied her to a fence so she couldn’t report the crime. The prosecutor charged him with PC 210.5 because the defendant tied the victim to the fence…which constituted false imprisonment…and substantially increased her risk of harm by exposing her to the weather for a long period of time.
The court held that while the defendant certainly committed a number of crimes during this incident, false imprisonment of a hostage was not one of them. It reasoned that there was no “reasonable inference that defendant falsely imprisoned Anderson [the victim] ‘for purposes of protection from arrest’ within the meaning of [Penal Code] section 210.5.”8
There are a number of legal defenses to fight a PC 210.5 charge that your California criminal defense lawyer could present on your behalf. The following are some of the most common:
- there was no imminent threat of arrest (as was the case in the second example above),
- there was no increased risk of harm to the victim (although you claimed you were going to harm the victim, you actually had no ability to do so),
- consent (if the alleged victim actually consented to be confined, restrained or detained, then there was no false imprisonment),
- duress (if you only falsely imprisoned the alleged victim because someone else threatened to harm or kill you if you did not…perhaps so that he/she could try to escape arrest…you would not be guilty of this crime), and
- self-defense / defense of others (perhaps you falsely imprisoned the alleged victim and exposed him/her to a substantial risk of injury by using him/her as a shield, but you only did so because you were trying to save him/her from the certain harm/death he/she would have faced if your accomplice would have been the one to take that individual hostage. Given these types of facts, your “good intentions” may absolve you of liability for this charge).
When the California Legislature enacted this law in 1987, it did so to create a harsher penalty for the false imprisonment of a hostage than for the general law prohibiting false imprisonment.9
- the facts of the case, and
- your criminal history.
Under PC 236, even the felony is only punishable by a maximum three-year county jail sentence.10 However, the legislature made Penal Code 210.5 an automatic felony, punishable by three, five or eight years in county jail.11
In addition, there are a variety of charges and/or sentencing enhancements that may also come into play with Penal Code 210.5 PC…charges that will carry additional penalties should you suffer a conviction. Some of these include:
- California Penal Code 12022.7 PC California’s great bodily injury enhancement which adds an additional and consecutive three to six-year state prison sentence to your sentence for the false imprisonment charge if you cause the victim to suffer a substantial or significant injury,12
- Penal Code 242 PC California’s battery law which you violate anytime you unlawfully use force or violence upon another person,13 and
- Penal Code 209 PC California’s kidnapping law which you violate by moving a person a substantial distance (against his/her will) by using force or fear,14 and
- Penal Code 187 PC murder if the victim is killed during the commission of this offense.15
But as San Bernardino criminal defense attorney John Murray16 explains, “Our team of outstanding lawyers will devise the most comprehensive defense strategy to help fight your case…your entire case. Our goal is to secure an acquittal, but when that’s not possible, we’ll do our best to negotiate a plea bargain for less serious charges with less serious consequences.”
For additional help…
If you or loved one is charged with Penal Code 210.5 PC false imprisonment and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone. We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.
We have local criminal law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.
Arrested in Nevada? See our article on Nevada false imprisonment laws.
Arrested in Colorado? See our article on Colorado false imprisonment laws.
l Code 210.5 PC – False imprisonment for purposes of avoiding arrest or use as a shield.
2 Facts are taken from People v. Torres (2005) 127 Cal.App.4th 1391.
3 See Penal Code 210.5 PC – False imprisonment for purposes of avoiding arrest or use as a shield, endnote 1, above.
4 Our California criminal defense attorneys have local Los Angeles law offices in Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona, Torrance, Van Nuys, West Covina, and Whittier. We have additional law offices conveniently located throughout the state in Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.
5 Penal Code 236 PC, California’s false imprisonment law. (“False imprisonment is the unlawful violation of the personal liberty of another.”)
6 See Penal Code 210.5 PC – False imprisonment for purposes of avoiding arrest or use as a shield, endnote 1, above.
9 People v. Gomez, supra at 826 (overruled on other grounds). (“Our holding is also buttressed by the legislative history of section 210.5 [California’s law against false imprisonment for purposes of avoiding arrest or use as a shield], which was enacted in 1987.FN4 Prior to the enactment of that section the Penal Code did not provide punishment tailored to fit the situation where the perpetrator holds the victim hostage to prevent arrest or for use as a shield. The purpose of Senate Bill 713, the source of section 210.5, was to make the offense of false imprisonment of a hostage under certain circumstances punishable as a felony. The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, the source of the bill, urged that there be harsher punishment for false imprisonment of a hostage, which would be in line with the offense of kidnapping, a felony, to which this offense was analogous, instead of the lesser punishment applicable to false imprisonment, known as a “wobbler,” which can be either a misdemeanor or a felony.”)
10 Penal Code 237 PC, California’s false imprisonment law, punishment. (“(a) False imprisonment is punishable by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment. If the false imprisonment be effected by violence, menace, fraud, or deceit, it shall be punishable by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170. (b) False imprisonment of an elder or dependent adult by use of violence, menace, fraud, or deceit shall be punishable as described in subdivision (f) of Section 368.”)
See also California Penal Code 18 PC — Punishment for felony not otherwise prescribed; alternate sentence to county jail. (“(a) Except in cases where a different punishment is prescribed by any law of this state, every offense declared to be a felony is punishable by imprisonment for 16 months, or two or three years in the state prison unless the offense is punishable pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170. (b) Every offense which is prescribed by any law of the state to be a felony punishable by imprisonment or by a fine, but without an alternate sentence to the county jail for a period not exceeding one year, may be punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one year or by a fine, or by both.”)
See also California Penal Code 672 PC — Offenses for which no fine prescribed; fine authorized in addition to imprisonment. (“Upon a conviction for any crime punishable by imprisonment in any jail or prison, in relation to which no fine is herein prescribed, the court may impose a fine on the offender not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000) in cases of misdemeanors or ten thousand dollars ($10,000) in cases of felonies, in addition to the imprisonment prescribed.”)
11 See Penal Code 210.5 PC – False imprisonment for purposes of avoiding arrest or use as a shield, endnote 1, above.
12 Penal Code 12022.7 PC — California’s great bodily injury sentencing enhancement.
13 California Penal Code 242 — Battery. (“Battery defined. A battery is any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another.”)
14 California Penal Code 207 PC – California’s kidnapping law.
15 California Penal Code 187 PC –
16 San Bernardino criminal defense attorney John Murray defends clients throughout the Inland Empire including Hemet, Palm Springs, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside and San Bernardino.