Unlawful Restraint in the State of Texas

Man unlawfully restraining a woman in Texas

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The charge of unlawful restraint is common in Texas, and it’s frequently associated with domestic violence cases. Unlawful restraint can be difficult to understand because it extends well beyond locking someone up in a confined space or using bonds to prevent escape. In fact, simply blocking someone’s exit from a room can qualify as unlawful restraint.

Better understanding the crime can help you avoid being charged. If you are facing an unlawful restraint charge, you shouldn’t wait to consult with an experienced Round Rock criminal defense attorney.

The Charge of Unlawful Restraint

Unlawful restraint refers to intentionally or knowingly restraining another person’s movements without consent by employing either intimidation, deception, or deadly force. In Texas, deadly force means a level of force that involves one of the following factors:

  • The perpetrator knows the force used will cause the victim to suffer death or serious bodily injury.

  • The perpetrator knows the force used is capable of causing the victim to suffer death or serious bodily injury.

  • The perpetrator intends the force used to cause the victim to suffer death or serious bodily injury.

There are three primary elements of unlawful restraint charges in Texas.


The person accused of unlawfully restraining the other person must have intended to restrict movement.


The person accused of unlawfully restraining the other person must have known that his or her actions would limit the other person’s freedom of movement.

Lack of Consent

The person accused of unlawfully restraining the other person must have restricted freedom of movement without consent.

Focusing on Restraint

The restraint factor in unlawful restraint refers to restricting the other person’s movements without consent to the degree that it substantially interferes with the victim’s personal liberty. This broad definition means you don’t have to come into physical contact with the other person in order to unlawfully restrain him or her.

For example, keeping someone in a room can be classified as unlawful restraint in all the following scenarios:

  • Blocking the door to prevent the other person from leaving the room

  • Locking the other person in the room with no means of exiting

  • Threatening to kill or harm the person or someone the person cares about if he or she leaves the room

None of these require physical contact in order to unlawfully restrain the victim, but physically restraining someone – by holding him or her back or otherwise restricting physical movement – is another form of unlawful restraint.

Using deceit to keep someone restrained also qualifies as unlawful restraint. For example, if you keep another person in a room by lying and saying that he or she is under arrest, it meets the requirements for unlawful restraint.

In other words, this charge is complicated and can be applied to a wide range of situations. If you are facing an unlawful restraint charge, you need the guidance of a seasoned Round Rock criminal defense attorney to help you build your strongest possible defense.

If Convicted

The charge of unlawful restraint is generally a Class A misdemeanor, and a conviction carries up to 12 months in jail and fines of up to $4,000. If the victim is younger than 17, the crime is elevated to a state jail felony, and a conviction means up to 24 months in jail and fines of up to $10,000.

If any of the following enhancements apply to the charge, it becomes a third-degree felony:

  • While unlawfully restraining the victim, he or she is exposed to substantial risk.

  • The person who is unlawfully restrained is a public servant.

  • The accused unlawfully restrained the other person while in custody.

A conviction for a third-degree felony carries from 2 to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

Finally, if the person who is unlawfully restrained is a judge or police officer, the charge is a second-degree felony, and a conviction means up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

Domestic Violence

It’s important to consider the intersection of domestic violence and unlawful restraint. In Texas, domestic violence – or family violence – refers to an act by one member of a family or household against another that is intended to cause physical harm, bodily injury, or assault or that makes the victim reasonably fear imminent harm.

Family members in this context mean biological family members and those who are related by adoption or marriage. However, family violence charges can also apply to current or past members of one’s household and current or past romantic partners.

For the charge of domestic violence to apply, the victim must have experienced pain, which means a pinch or shove will suffice, but it can also mean that the victim experienced considerable pain. Domestic violence occurs on a spectrum, but it is always a serious legal matter.

Domestic violence charges can also apply when there is no physical contact. Unlawful restraint is a prime example. Using intimidation to keep a family member, romantic partner, or member of one’s household restrained – such as by blocking them from leaving the home – can qualify as both domestic violence and unlawful restraint, which can elevate the charge and penalties.

If you are facing the paired charge of domestic violence and unlawful restraint, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Contact a Round Rock criminal defense attorney for clarity and guidance as you progress through your case.

Unlawful Restraint vs. Kidnapping

Unlawful restraint and kidnapping are often confused, but they’re two separate charges that both involve holding someone against his or her will. There are, however, key distinctions. While both charges are very serious matters, kidnapping carries even harsher penalties. Additionally, unlawful restraint can evolve into kidnapping.

Kidnapping refers to the knowing or intentional abduction of another person, which involves taking away the victim’s liberty by hiding or holding the victim (with or without the threat of deadly force) where he or she is unlikely to be found.

The dividing line between unlawful restraint and kidnapping is the element of abduction. Both charges involve knowingly or intentionally restraining the victim without consent, but kidnapping requires abduction. In legal terms, abduction refers to situations including both of the following factors:

  • Secreting or hiding the person somewhere that he or she is unlikely to be found

  • Using or threatening to use deadly force

Neither of these factors is necessary for the charge of unlawful restraint to apply.

The Charge of Kidnapping

The crime of kidnapping is generally charged as a third-degree felony, which carries a prison sentence of 2 to 10 years and fines of up to $10,000.

Aggravated Kidnapping

The kidnapping charge can be elevated to aggravated kidnapping if the victim is abducted and held for any of the following reasons:

  • For ransom

  • As a hostage

  • As a personal shield

  • To sexually abuse or otherwise harm the victim

  • To commit a felony

  • To escape the scene of a felony

  • To torment the victim or someone else

  • To interfere with a political or government function

The use of a deadly weapon in the process of kidnapping the victim also qualifies as aggravated kidnapping, and the related charge is a first-degree felony, which carries a sentence of 5 to 99 years – or life – in prison and fines of up to $10,000. If the accused ultimately releases the kidnapping victim in a safe space, the first-degree charge is reduced to a second-degree felony.

Smuggling of Persons

The charge of smuggling of persons refers to using a motor vehicle, aircraft, or watercraft to hide another person or oneself from law enforcement or to flee law enforcement. The charge is typically a state jail felony, which carries up to 2 years in jail and fines of up to $10,000.

If, however, the defendant smuggled the other person in exchange for monetary benefit or in a manner that could cause the person being smuggled to suffer harm or death, the charge is enhanced to a third-degree felony, and a conviction means a prison sentence of from 2 to 10 years and fines of up to $10,000.

Parental Kidnapping

Parental kidnapping refers to a child’s parent who takes the child in violation of a court order, whether it’s a temporary hearing or a formal custody order. Parental kidnapping, like other forms of kidnapping, involves abduction and is, therefore, charged as a third-degree felony, which carries a prison sentence of 2 to 10 years and fines of up to $10,000.

If the parent can prove a claim to custody of the child at the time, it can lay the groundwork for a solid defense. However, if there was a custody order that denied the parent the right to take action – whether that means taking the child out of town or keeping the child from the other parent – it can lead to kidnapping charges.

Defense Strategies

Every unlawful restraint and kidnapping charge is unique to the circumstances involved, and successfully defending yourself against either charge requires skilled legal guidance. A Round Rock criminal defense attorney can help you build a strong defense that will protect your rights. Effective defense strategies often fall into the following categories:


For an unlawful restraint or kidnapping charge to hold, the victim must have been held or abducted against his or her will. If the victim consented, the required element regarding lack of consent isn’t present, which weakens the charge.

Lack of Intent

If the accused did not intend to unlawfully restrain or kidnap the victim, such as in the case of a misunderstanding, it can serve as a defense.

Lack of Evidence

To be convicted of either unlawful restraint or kidnapping, the prosecution must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which requires evidence. Such charges can come down to one person’s word against the other’s, making them difficult to prove.

Mistaken Identity

The stress of being unlawfully detained or kidnapped can leave the victim unable to identify the perpetrator of the unlawful restraint or kidnapping accurately. The fact that eyewitness IDs are far from foolproof in the first place makes the defense of mistaken identity more plausible.

False Accusation

Sometimes, actual victims make false accusations out of fear, stress, anxiety, or confusion. In other situations, people who were neither unlawfully restrained nor kidnapped make false accusations to the contrary. A defense can be built around either situation.

Unlawful Detention by the Police

If the police fail to follow all legal protocols and unlawfully detain you in the process of charging you, any evidence or statements they gather as a result can be suppressed, which can bolster your defense considerably.

Duress or Necessity

If the alleged unlawful restraint or kidnapping is the result of the perpetrator being forced to commit the crime under threat of immediate harm or if the crime was committed in an effort to prevent more serious harm, it can mitigate the crime or serve as a defense of duress.

FAQ about Unlawful Restraint Charges

If you’re facing an unlawful restraint or a kidnapping charge, you have questions, and the answers to those asked most frequently may help.

Which Crime Is More Serious – Unlawful Restraint or Kidnapping?

Both unlawful restraint and kidnapping are very serious charges, but because kidnapping involves abduction, it’s even more serious and carries harsher legal penalties.

How Can I Protect Myself against a Charge of Unlawful Restraint or Kidnapping?

The most important step you can take in the face of any criminal charge is retaining a skilled Round Rock criminal defense attorney early in the process. The stakes are too high not to bring your strongest defense, and for that, you need focused legal representation.

Is Unlawful Restraint a Form of Domestic Violence?

While unlawful restraint isn’t classified as a form of domestic violence, it’s one of the crimes that is most closely related to domestic violence charges.

Reach Out to an Experienced Round Rock Criminal Defense Attorney Today

Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – proudly serving Round Rock, Texas – is an accomplished criminal defense attorney who appreciates the significance and legal complexities of unlawful restraint and kidnapping charges and fiercely advocates for your case’s best possible resolution.

The outcome of your case is important to your future, so please don’t put off reaching out to contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 to learn more about what we can do to help you and to schedule your FREE consultation today.

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