Have you ever been so angry with your significant other that you snatched their car keys out of their hands when they tried to leave and blocked the door? Have you ever been so determined to make someone listen to you that you refused to stop the car while an argument was going on, even though they demanded to be let out?

These are scenarios that can lead to charges of false imprisonment. Under Washington law, you’re guilty of unlawful imprisonment, which is a Class C felony, if you knowingly restrain another person. “Restrain” means that you stop another person’s movements:

  • Without their consent, via force, intimidation or deception
  • Without legal authority
  • In a way that substantially limits their freedom

You can also be guilty of restraining someone who is under 16 years old or who is incompetent even if they stay with you willingly. That’s because people in those categories don’t have the legal capacity to give such consent.

Since those are pretty broad definitions, it’s wise to understand the sort of actions that could lead to criminal charges. Most people tend to think of “unlawful imprisonment” as a situation where someone locks another person in a room and refuses to let them leave. However, the situations can be much more nuanced. For example, you could be charged with false imprisonment for simply holding your spouse down by force during a fight or threatening to turn an undocumented immigrant who works for you in to immigration authorities if they try to leave.

Often, unlawful imprisonment charges arise when an alleged victim files a complaint. However, they’re also sometimes tacked on to other charges, especially those involving domestic violence. If you’re facing criminal charges, get experienced representation right away.