In addition to criminal charges stemming from an accusation of false imprisonment, the alleged victim of such a crime can seek financial damages and compensation in the Pennsylvania civil courts. As of May 2011, the victim can do this in a Pennsylvania small claims court, if the compensation they seek is less than $10,000 --- or by consulting with an attorney specializing in personal injury suits about other legal remedies.
False imprisonment is defined by Pennsylvania state law as "knowingly restraining another unlawfully so as to interfere substantially with his liberty" and is considered a second degree misdemeanor. This is uprated to a felony conviction in cases in which the person unlawfully restrained was under 18 years of age. In addition to criminal punishments, one who has been accused of committing false imprisonment can be sued in a civil court for damages --- although there is a statute of limitations in place for civil actions of this kind.
Civil Action for False Imprisonment
False Imprisonment in Civil Court
The victim of alleged false imprisonment can be awarded damages regardless of the verdict of any criminal case rising from the same incident. The jury in a criminal case must find the defendant guilty "beyond reasonable doubt" --- with the jury coming to a complete or near-complete consensus. In a civil case, on the other hand, only the majority of the jury must find in favor of the plaintiff. This is how people acquitted of a crime in a criminal court, such as O.J. Simpson, can still be found "guilty" of the alleged crime in a civil court.
Statute of Limitations for Civil Action
Victims of alleged false imprisonment do not have an unlimited time period in which they can file a civil action --- they must do so within two years of whenever the incident they claim was "false imprisonment" occurred. This is because Pennsylvania state law believes that any longer period would be difficult to set straight in court, as witnesses will forget details and important forensic evidence might be lost or damaged.
Requirements for Civil Action
For a civil action in a case of alleged false imprisonment to be successful, a plaintiff must prove that he was physically restrained or physically prevented from leaving against his will. For a example, false imprisonment is not committed if somebody blocks another from leaving through one exit, but not another. There are also cases in which civilians have the right to legally detain people --- such as a retailer detaining a suspected shoplifter until authorities arrive. Before beginning a civil action for false imprisonment, it is important to research whether the incident is defined by law as "false imprisonment."
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