Penal Code 237 PC – Penalties and Punishment for False Imprisonment in California

Penal Code 237 PC is the California statute that sets forth the penalties for the crime of false imprisonment, charged under Penal Code 236 PC.

Under this statute, false imprisonment is a wobbler offense, meaning that it can be punished as either a California misdemeanor or a felony.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.

If charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for up to three years.

Note that, per PC 237b, enhanced penalties will be given in a false imprisonment conviction if the victim is either:

  • an elder, or
  • a dependent adult.

According to Penal Code 237:

“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.

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.”

Penal Code 236 says that false imprisonment takes place when a person restrains, detains, or confines another person without his consent. This offense is not a “crime involving moral turpitude.”

Note that a false imprisonment conviction may have immigration consequences if the crime is:

  1. charged as a felony, and
  2. accomplished by violence or menace (rather than fraud or deceit).

This is true because when the above two conditions are met, the conviction counts as a crime of domestic violence.

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

false imprisonment of a senior

1. What are the penalties and punishment for a false imprisonment conviction under Penal Code 237?

California Penal Code 237 is the State's statute that sets forth the penalties for false imprisonment. Under this section, false imprisonment is a type of wobbler offense, meaning that it can be punished as either a California misdemeanor or a felony.

In addition, any penalties imposed under PC 237 can get enhanced if the false imprisonment victim is either:

  • an elder, or
  • a dependent adult.

1.1. Misdemeanor false imprisonment

Under PC 237(a), false imprisonment is charged as a misdemeanor if the commission of the offense was not affected by “violence, menace, fraud, or deceit.”1

A person guilty of misdemeanor false imprisonment can be punished with:

  • a fine not exceeding $1,000, and/or
  • imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year.2

Note that in lieu of jail time a judge may award a defendant with misdemeanor (or summary) probation.

1.2. Felony false imprisonment

False imprisonment will be charged as a felony when the crime is “effected by violence, menace, fraud, or deceit.”3

If a person is guilty of felony false imprisonment, a judge can sentence him to a county jail term of either:

  • 16 months,
  • two years, or
  • three years.4

Note that in lieu of jail time a judge may award a defendant with felony (or formal) probation.

1.3. Enhanced penalties with elder or dependent parent victims

Under Penal Code 237(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.”5

Penal Code 368 (b)(2) states that if an elder or dependent adult suffers great bodily injury, in the commission of false imprisonment, the defendant shall receive an additional prison term of:

  • three years, if the victim is under 70 years of age6, or
  • five years, if the victim is 70 years of age or older7.

Penal Code 368 (b)(3) addresses the situation when:

  1. a defendant commits false imprisonment, and
  2. in the commission of the crime, the defendant caused the death of the elder or dependent adult victim.8

In this situation, the defendant shall receive an additional prison term of:

  • five years, if the victim is under 70 years of age9, or
  • seven years, if the victim is 70 years of age or older10.
legal definition of false imprisonment

2. What is the crime of false imprisonment under Penal Code 236 PC?

Penal Code 236 PC is the California statute that defines the crime of false imprisonment. Under this code section, false imprisonment is “the unlawful violation of the personal liberty of another.”11

The commission of the crime means that one person:

  1. restrains, detains, or confines another person, and
  2. does so without that person's consent.

The crime can be committed with or without force or violence.12

Examples of false imprisonment are when:

  • during a heated spousal argument, the husband grabs his wife by the shoulders and prevents her from leaving a room,
  • an employee, while upset with a co-worker on the job, locks the co-worker in a closet, or
  • a police officer arrests and detains a suspect without a warrant and with no legal authority.

Please note that, under California law, false imprisonment is not a crime of moral turpitude. California courts have stated this rule because the offense does not:

  1. require the intent to injure a person13, and
  2. apply to a protected class.14

3. Are there immigration consequences to convictions of false imprisonment?

There can be immigration consequences to convictions of false imprisonment.

A conviction may have immigration consequences if the crime is:

  1. charged as a felony, and
  2. accomplished by violence or menace (as opposed to fraud or deceit).

In these circumstances, the conviction counts as a crime of domestic violence.

A conviction for a crime of domestic violence or related offense can subject a non-U.S. citizen to deportation (removal). In some cases, it can also make an immigrant inadmissible for re-entry to the United States and ineligible for U.S. citizenship or a green card.

Were you accused of committing the crime of false imprisonment in California? Call us for help…

california attorneys
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime under Penal Code 236, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LawFirm.

For similar accusations in Colorado, please see our article on: “Colorado "False Imprisonment" Laws (18-3-303 C.R.S.).”

For similar accusations in Nevada, please see our article on: “Nevada "False Imprisonment" Laws (NRS 200.460) Explained by Las Vegas Criminal Defense Attorneys.”


Legal References:

  1. California Penal Code 237 PC. This code section states: “(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.”

  2. See same.

  3. California Penal Code 237a PC.

  4. California Penal Code 1170(g)(h)(1) PC.

  5. California Penal Code 237b PC.

  6. California Penal Code 368(b)(2)(A) PC.

  7. California Penal Code 368(b)(2)(B) PC.

  8. California Penal Code 368(b)(3) PC.

  9. California Penal Code 368(b)(3)(A) PC.

  10. California Penal Code 368(b)(3)(B) PC.

  11. California Penal Code 236 PC.

  12. See same.

  13. People v. Olivencia (1988), 204 Cal.App.3d 1391.

  14. Turijan v. Holder (2014), 744 F.3d 617.

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