How Can The Government Prove False Imprisonment With Rape Charges?

Rape and sexual assault are two of the most significant criminal charges that can be claimed against an individual. When a charge of false imprisonment is added to rape charges, it can make the situation even more daunting. Claims of false imprisonment, which means being held against one’s will, can lead to additional legal and financial penalties in court – and embarrassment for those who are accused of this crime. Nonetheless, false imprisonment charges are based on very specific legal conditions that a skilled criminal defense attorney can use to help the accused person challenge the accusation.

If you or someone you know has been charged with false imprisonment, it can be helpful to learn more about how it is defined and how it relates to rape or sexual assault charges. This article can help clarify things until you have an opportunity to sit down with a defense attorney to begin planning the case. Berry Law has several experienced criminal defense attorneys that have extensive experience with defending clients from rape, sexual assault, and false imprisonment accusations in Lincoln, Nebraska and the surrounding area.


False imprisonment is a common secondary charge levied against those accused of rape. The term refers to the assertion that the person who allegedly did the “imprisoning” had a false or unlawful reason for doing so. In other words, they had no legal right to hold the person. This legal definition of false imprisonment is different from the more colloquial usage of false imprisonment that is used to imply that a court of law sent someone to prison who was later exonerated of the crime.

Proving false imprisonment in association with rape (or any other associated criminal allegation, such as kidnapping or burglary) requires proving all four of these conditions:

  1. the alleged victim did not consent to the detainment
  2. the accused person intentionally detained the person
  3. the accuser was under duress caused by the accused in a way that prevented free movement
  4. the accuser knew about the detention; or, if he or she was unaware of the detention, it harmed them in some way

With certain primary allegations other than rape, prosecutors also must prove that there wasn’t a legal basis for the detention. A lawful imprisonment may occur when law enforcement officers detain a suspect during an investigation or when the manager of a retail store detains an alleged shoplifter.

When rape or sexual assault is the primary basis for the false imprisonment claim, the prosecution must be able to prove all four of the conditions listed above. For example, if a husband and wife are engaged in consensual sexual relations and the wife agrees to restraint (or even implies agreement) as a part of sexual play, and if she never retracts her consent during the sexual activity, the husband may believe he is allowed to continue. The wife’s ability to bring a charge of false imprisonment after the fact could be hindered by her failure to retract consent.

On the other hand, if prosecutors convince the court that the wife was fearful of retracting consent due to emotional intimidation by her husband, or for some other reason was unable or unwilling to retract consent, a false imprisonment accusation still might be entertained by the court.

In other words, false imprisonment doesn’t have to be based on a strictly physical set of conditions.


Every false imprisonment and rape case is unique, but the prevention of free movement in a false imprisonment allegation generally involves the definition of a series of boundaries within which the accused person intentionally confines the accuser. The type of boundary can vary with each case.

It’s easier to prove false imprisonment with rape if there was some type of physical boundary the person could not get past. If the sexual activity takes place within a room that has a locked door, for example, it might be considered false imprisonment if the person is not allowed access to the lock or a key to unlock the door – and they are aware they cannot get out.

On the other hand, intangible barriers also are sometimes considered contributing factors in false imprisonment. Intangible barriers include:

  • False legal authority: claiming untruthfully to be a law enforcement officer or another person of authority who orders the person not to leave
  • Mental/emotional pressure: the accused’s words or behavior (such as brandishing a gun or other weapon – or being otherwise physically intimidating) might lead the alleged victim to believe they or another person will be harmed or killed if they attempt to leave
  • Confiscation of property: taking a piece of property that in effect keeps the person from leaving (e.g., taking someone’s car keys to keep them from leaving a party)

Although these intangible “boundaries” can provide enough reason for a court to confirm false imprisonment, nonphysical boundaries usually must have caused a great deal of mental and/or emotional pressure on the accuser to be considered false imprisonment.

The court’s decision whether to convict someone of false imprisonment also often hinges on what can be ascertained about the intent the accused person had at the time of the alleged imprisonment.


To prove false imprisonment, an accuser must have believed themselves to be detained for a sufficient amount of time to constitute imprisonment. There is no official, concrete amount of time that qualifies a period of restraint as false imprisonment. As with many other aspects of sexual assault, the facts of each case can change how the court views an alleged crime.

For example, if a college student is begged to stay in a fellow student’s dorm room, and the friend is standing in front of the door to prevent her from leaving, the amount of time the door is physically blocked, along with other conditions, will determine whether false imprisonment is taking place. If the door is blocked by the friend briefly, and no other harm is caused by the impedance, it might NOT be considered false imprisonment.


Statutory rape is the most obvious type of rape case that won’t necessarily include a false imprisonment charge. If an underage person agrees to sexual relations or sexual contact with a person over a certain age, they have agreed to be in the space where the sexual activity takes place and therefore aren’t being detained. However, the ages of the people involved may still warrant a statutory rape charge.

Other rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment cases may not include false imprisonment charges.


False imprisonment can be a criminal felony and/or a common law tort, which means penalties can involve both prison and/or financial damages sustained because of the false imprisonment.

In criminal court, penalties could include jail time or probation. Civil court penalties could include large amounts of money paid to the victim of the crime. In some cases, a punitive financial award is allowed even if the accuser can’t prove personal financial loss. If a conviction is obtained in both criminal and civil court, criminal penalties and civil penalties could be combined.


When false imprisonment is associated with rape charges, defenses against false imprisonment commonly involve demonstrating that one of the four elements of false imprisonment listed above can’t be proved. Some examples of weak false imprisonment claims:

  • the accuser may have agreed to the detention (as in the case with the husband and wife above)
  • the accused might have accidentally detained the person or might not have realized there was an element of restriction involved or that the accuser felt there was a boundary he or she could not get past to perceived safety
  • it might be shown that the person who was being detained was not in fact under any substantial duress that restricted their free movement
  • the accuser might not have known until later that there was any attempt to restrict their freedom of movement (in one example, a burglar locked bedroom doors in a house to keep from being discovered during the burglary, but then unlocked the doors before leaving the house – the family later found out they had been locked in their rooms, but hadn’t woken up during the burglary; this case didn’t involve rape)

One of the most important steps that someone can take if they are accused of rape or sexual assault with the added complication of false imprisonment is to consult with a local attorney. Even admitting presence in the location where the accuser placed the rape could complicate the defense. It’s never too late, however, to get an attorney involved.

An experienced criminal defense lawyer can evaluate all the details of a specific case and ensure that the rights of the accused are upheld, as well as minimize potential legal and personal consequences. In fact, it can be advisable to find a criminal defense attorney who has worked with law enforcement and courts in the local area, because courts and law enforcement institutions in different jurisdictions may have different methods of approaching the same charges.

If you or someone you know is facing rape charges in the Lincoln or Omaha, Nebraska with the added complication of false imprisonment allegations, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Berry Law to learn more about your rights.

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