False Imprisonment in Florida Domestic Violence Cases – Oakes v. State

The term “false imprisonment” invokes the idea of a lock and key. That is, many people assume that a false imprisonment case involves the wrongful imprisonment of a person by a state or federal authority. In Florida, however, false imprisonment is also a serious criminal charge – often raised in the context of alleged domestic violence – that can be levied against a person who restrains another person without authority and against the person’s will. Such restraint need not involve handcuffs nor a locked door. Rather, the victim need merely be unable to move. In Oakes v. State, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal explains that even temporary restraint constitutes false imprisonment.

Appellant was convicted on charges of domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment, and battery stemming from a domestic violence incident that occurred at his then girlfriend’s apartment. He challenged the false imprisonment conviction on appeal, arguing that the trial court improperly denied his motion for acquittal on this charge because the evidence presented by the prosecution didn’t indicate that he prevented the victim from leaving her apartment.

At trial, the victim testified that Oakes was a visitor in her home when the two began arguing on the porch. He then threatened, shoved and “lightly choked” her. The argument continued inside the apartment where the victim told Oakes to leave and threatened to call the police. According to the victim, Oakes subsequently punched her. This knocked the victim to the floor, where Oakes pinned her down with his knees on her shoulders then began to hit and choked her.

Pursuant to section 787.02(1)(a), Fla. Stat. (2008), “[t]he term ‘false imprisonment’ means forcibly, by threat, or secretly confining, abducting, imprisoning, or restraining another person without lawful authority and against her or his will.”

Oakes argued that he could not be convicted for false imprisonment because the victim testified that she was pinned to the ground only temporarily. The First District rejected this argument, citing the Fifth District’s decision in Proko v. State in holding that “[t]he essence of false imprisonment is the act of depriving the victim of personal liberty or freedom of movement for any length of time.” Indeed, according to the court, the crime can be committed by a mere “momentary grasp.” While Oakes may have only temporarily pinned the victim to the floor, the evidence was sufficient for a jury to find that Oakes forcibly restrained the victim and was therefore guilty of false imprisonment. The trial court properly declined to grant an acquittal on this charge, according to the court.

In Florida, domestic violence means any assault, battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment or any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of a person by a family or household member. A person convicted on a domestic violence charge in the state faces a minimum sentence of one year of probation as well as possible imprisonment.

The South Florida criminal defense attorneys at the firm of Anidjar & Levine are experienced at handling a variety of criminal matters, including those involving domestic violence. Anidjar & Levine are committed to helping you achieve the best results possible.

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