" />
Unlawful Restraint Law Image

Unlawful Restraint

Unlawful Restraint is a criminal offense in the state of Texas that makes it illegal to intentionally or knowingly restrain someone. What it means to “restrain” someone is explained in the law, and it is important to understand this definition to understand the Unlawful Restraint offense.

The statute also exempts certain restraints related to “lawful arrests.” In addition, there are two affirmative defenses under the law, available only if the restrained person is under 18.

How can I be charged with Unlawful Restraint?

Unlawful Restraint is defined in Section 20.02 of the Texas Penal Code as follows:

UNLAWFUL RESTRAINT. (a) A person commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly restrains another person.

This statute is deliberately broad in order to cover a wide range of possibilities, but you could, for instance, be charged with this offense if you deliberately and physically held someone down, or if you locked them in a room.

There is an important exception to this definition of Unlawful Restraint. Penal Code Section 20.02(d) says: “It is no offense to detain or move another under this section when it is for the purpose of effecting a lawful arrest or detaining an individual lawfully arrested.” So, if you had a “lawful” reason for restraining someone, then you have committed no crime. This exception is what allows police officers and citizens alike to make legal arrests when someone has apparently committed a crime (but be careful to rely on this as a citizen, because if you’re wrong, the punishment can be severe1).

What is the range of punishment for Unlawful Restraint?

By default, a conviction for Unlawful Restraint is punished as a Class A misdemeanor.2 However, there are several ways that the penalty range may be enhanced under the law to the felony level. However, the offense is elevated to a State Jail Felony if the individual restrained is under the age of 17.3 The offense is further elevated to a Third Degree Felony if any of the following conditions are met:4

  • (A) the actor recklessly exposes the victim to a substantial risk of serious bodily injury;
  • (B) the actor restrains an individual the actor knows is a public servant while the public servant is lawfully discharging an official duty or in retaliation or on account of an exercise of official power or performance of an official duty as a public servant; or
  • (C) the actor while in custody restrains any other person.

In 2017, the 85th Texas Legislature passed H.B. 2908, creating a new enhancement, effective September 1, 2017.5 This new enhancement makes an Unlawful Restraint conviction a felony of the second degree “if the actor restrains an individual the actor knows is a peace officer or judge while the officer or judge is lawfully discharging an official duty or in retaliation or on account of an exercise of official power or performance of an official duty as a peace officer or judge.”6

What exactly does person mean under this statute?

Chapter 20 of the Texas Penal Code defines a “person” to not only mean an individual, but also a corporation or an association. 7 While it is unlikely that someone would be able to restrain a corporation, if a business or corporation were to take action against an individual and restrain them in some fashion, that corporation or association could possibly be charged with the offense.

What are the defenses to this offense?

There are two sets of conditions that, if met you would have an affirmative defense. If you unlawfully restrained someone under subsection (a), but the circumstances were such that either one of the sets of conditions were met, your criminal defense attorney could assert an affirmative defense. The state’s attorneys would then have the “burden of proof” in a trial to show that the conditions were not true.

The first set of conditions is in Texas Penal Code Section 20.02(b):

(1) the person restrained was a child younger than 14 years of age;
(2) the actor was a relative of the child; and
(3) the actor’s sole intent was to assume lawful control of the child.

The second set of conditions is in Texas Penal Code Section 20.02(e):

(1) the person restrained was a child who is 14 years of age or older and younger than 17 years of age;
(2) the actor does not restrain the child by force, intimidation, or deception; and
(3) the actor is not more than three years older than the child.

What exactly does it mean to “restrain” somebody?

Restraint is defined under Section 20.01(1) of the Texas Penal Code as “restrict[ing] a person’s movements without consent, so as to interfere substantially with the person’s liberty, by moving the person from one place to another or by confining the person.” This means that you do not have to physically touch someone in order to restrict their movements. Locking someone in a room would also be considered a restraint. In fact, physical action might not be necessary at all to restrict someone. For example, threatening to kill someone if they leave a room would be considered a restriction on their movement, even though it involves no physical action.

The statute also defines what it means to restrict without consent. According to Section 20.01(1):

Restraint is “without consent” if it is accomplished by:

(A) force, intimidation, or deception; or

(B) any means, including acquiescence of the victim, if:

(i) the victim is a child who is less than 14 years of age or an incompetent person and the parent, guardian, or person or institution acting in loco parentis has not acquiesced in the movement or confinement; or

(ii) the victim is a child who is 14 years of age or older and younger than 17 years of age, the victim is taken outside of the state and outside a 120-mile radius from the victim’s residence, and the parent, guardian, or person or institution acting in loco parentis has not acquiesced in the movement.

“In loco parentis” means to act in place of the parent.

I did not know that the person was being restrained by me. Does that affect anything?

While this specific statute does not state what kind of knowledge or intent was required to be charged, The Texas Penal Code defaults to a requirement that you were at least reckless to the risk of causing someone to be restrained.8 This means that you must have been aware of the risk and disregarded it by your actions. For example, if you were to know there was a substantial risk of locking someone in a building when you were leaving, but you didn’t bother to check and locked when you left, you would be considered to have acted recklessly.


Legal References:

1 See The Right to Make a Citizen’s Arrest in Texas

2Texas Penal Code 20.02(c)

3Texas Penal Code 20.02(c)(1)

4Texas Penal Code 20.02(c)(2)

5House Bill 2908, Sections 6-7

6Texas Penal Code 20.02(c)(3), as created by H.B. 2908, Section 2, effective September 1, 2017

7Texas Penal Code 20.01(4)

8Texas Penal Code 6.02(c)

Published by Criminal Defense Attorney on and last modified