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What Are The Penalties For Unlawful Imprisonment In Michigan?

by | May 12, 2022 | Criminal Law |


The offense of unlawful imprisonment is similar to kidnapping in that a person becomes criminally liable when he or she intentional restricts another person’s movement within a given area without legal authority, justification or consent.  Unlike kidnapping, it does not require that the person physically moves that person to another location, but rather requires that the other person remains confined to the location they are already in against their will.  This is a very serious crime in Michigan that can result in hefty fines and a lengthy prison term.

An individual is guilty of unlawful imprisonment, contrary to MCL 750.349b, if the prosecutor can prove ALL of the following beyond a reasonable doubt (Michigan Criminal Jury Instruction 9.8):

  • First, that the individual knowingly restrained another person. “Restrain” means to forcibly restrict a person’s movements or to forcibly confine the person so as to interfere with that person’s liberty without that person’s consent or without lawful authority. The restraint does not have to exist for any particular length of time and may be related or incidental to the commission of other criminal acts.
  • Second, the individual did so under one or more of the following circumstances:
    • The person is restrained by means of a weapon or dangerous instrument. A dangerous weapon is any object that is used in a way that is likely to cause serious physical injury or death.  Some objects, such as guns or bombs, are dangerous because they are specifically designed to be dangerous. Other objects are designed for peaceful purposes but may be used as dangerous weapons. The way an object is used or intended to be used in an assault determines whether or not it is a dangerous weapon. If the individual
      threatened to use an object or used an object in a way that was likely to cause serious physical injury or death, it was a dangerous weapon.
    • The restrained person was secretly confined, which means to keep the confinement or location of the restrained person a secret.
    • The person was restrained to facilitate the commission of another felony or to facilitate flight after commission of another felony.

The penalty for unlawful imprisonment is a felony conviction punishable by a fine up to $20,000.00 or up to 15 years in state prison, or both.  MCL 750.349b(2).  A conviction for unlawful imprisonment does not prohibit the person from being charged with, convicted of, or sentenced for any other violation of law that is committed by that person during the same transaction.  MCL 750.349b(4).  A conviction for unlawful imprisonment of a minor will also cause the individual to register on Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry as a Tier I offender, even if there was no sexual contact whatsoever. MCL 28.722(r)(iii); see also People v Bosca, 310 Mich App 1; 871 NW2d 307 (2015).

Restraint does not have to be for a definable period of time and does not require physical force.  In People v Railer, 288 Mich App 213; 792 NW2d 776 (2010), the defendant challenged his conviction for unlawful imprisonment on appeal based on insufficient evidence.  He contends that he should not have been convicted where he left the victim (Nichols) in a car before she freely walked into a store and reported the defendant to police.  The Michigan Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that there was more than enough evidence to sustain the conviction:

“[D]efendant dragged Nichols by her hair across the parking lot and into the car. Defendant then drove Nichols to another parking lot, where he punched her in the mouth and choked her until she lost consciousness because Nichols “wouldn’t shut [her] smart mouth.” When Nichols resumed consciousness, defendant drove to a store. Nichols, however, refused to accompany defendant into the store because she had “wet [her] pants.” During this time, Nichols’s sister had been calling repeatedly. On the fourth call, defendant held the phone to Nichols’s ear and instructed her not to reveal their location and threatened to hang up the phone if Nichols did not comply because, as Nichols testified, defendant had told her that “nobody was going to get in the way of him spending time with [Nichols].” Scared of defendant; Nichols complied. After the call, Nichols reassured defendant that she loved him and convinced him to go into the store by himself, since her pants were wet, to buy her new pants. Once defendant went into the store with Nichols’s phone, Nichols enlisted the aid of a man in the parking lot to lead her safely into the store. Inside, the store manager assisted Nichols in reporting the incident to police and her family.” 288 Mich at 215-216.

“Ample evidence was presented to support this conviction. First, it is clear that Nichols was forcibly confined against her will when defendant dragged her by her hair across the parking lot to force her into the car. Twice after leaving the apartment — once at the store and once before arriving — the car was parked. However, Nichols dared not leave while in defendant’s presence given that, before arriving at the store, defendant had struck her face and choked her until she lost consciousness when she voiced her displeasure with the situation. Once at the store, defendant — who was in possession of Nichols’s phone and answered the fourth call of Nichols’s sister — precluded Nichols from communicating freely with her family and took the car keys and Nichols’s phone when he went into the store. These same acts provided sufficient evidence that defendant knowingly committed this misconduct, so a jury could have reasonably inferred that defendant knowingly restrained Nichols. Furthermore, the phone call from Nichols’s sister revealed that defendant intended to keep both the actual confinement and location of the confinement a secret. Indeed, frightened of defendant, Nichols complied with defendant’s demand that she not reveal their location.” 288 Mich at 218.

In People v Jaffray, 445 Mich 287, 519 NW2d 108 (1994), the Michigan Supreme Court clarified what “secret confinement” means for the purposes of kidnapping-type crimes like unlawful imprisonment:

“[W]e conclude that the essence of “secret confinement” as contemplated by the statute is deprivation of the assistance of others by virtue of the victim’s inability to communicate his predicament. “Secret confinement” is not predicated solely on the existence or nonexistence of a single factor. Rather, consideration of the totality of the circumstances is required when determining whether the confinement itself or the location of confinement was secret, thereby depriving the victim of the assistance of others. That others may be suspicious or aware of the confinement is relevant to the determination, but is not always dispositive.” 445 Mich at 309.

Victims of unlawful imprisonment can also sue offenders in civil court for money damages.  The elements for the tort of false imprisonment are “[1] an act committed with the intention of confining another, [2] the act directly or indirectly results in such confinement, and [3] the person confined is conscious of his confinement.”  Adams v Nat’l Bank of Detroit, 444 Mich 329, 341 (Levin, J.), 343, (Boyle, J.), 354 (Mallett, J., and Cavanagh, C.J., concurring); 508 NW2d 464 (1993).  These civil actions are often brought in the context of false arrests by law enforcement, but the tort is just as applicable to private actors.  A person found liable for the tort of false imprisonment can be ordered to pay significant money damages.

Unlawful imprisonment is a serious crime, but a skilled defense lawyer may be able to raise defenses that can lead to an acquittal.  Some defenses include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Legal Authority – The defendant exercising lawful authority to confine the other person is an absolute defense. For example, a store manager detaining a suspected shoplifter under the shopkeeper’s privilege until police arrive is not liable for unlawful imprisonment.
  • Consent – The defendant may able to defeat the element of restraint if he or she produces evidence that the other person consented to being in the location he or she was allegedly confined to.
  • Justification Due To Self-Defense or Duress – A defendant who was being attacked or in danger of imminent attack by the other person and takes steps to confine him or her until lawful authorities can be summoned to assist may have a lawful justification against criminal liability.

The consequences for unlawful imprisonment are severe and can ruin the rest of your life.  You can’t settle for anything less than the best legal representation in your corner to protect your freedom and your rights. If you or a loved one is charged with unlawful imprisonment or any criminal offense, do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC today.


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