Unlawful Restraint is a criminal offense in the state of Texas that makes it illegal to intentionally or knowingly restrain someone.
FAQs about the
Unlawful Restraint law in Texas
- What is the current Texas law about Unlawful Restraint?
- What exactly does person mean under this statute?
- What are the defenses to this offense?
- What exactly does it mean to “restrain” somebody?
- I did not know that the person was being restrained by me. Does that affect anything?
- What is the statute of limitation for Unlawful Restraint in Texas?
- What is the penalty for a Texas Unlawful Restraint offense?
- Can you get probation for Unlawful Restraint in Texas?
- Do I have to register as a sex offender in Texas if guilty of Unlawful Restraint?
- What level of crime is Unlawful Restraint in Texas?
New felony enhancements were added to the Unlawful Restraint law in 2017 and 2023. The 2017 enhancement allowed the state to charge the offense as a second degree felony if the victim was a judge or a peace officer. The 2023 enhancement applied to people in civil commmitment facilities. These are explained more in the range of punishment section below.
Have you been charged with Unlawful Restraint? Book a consultation to discuss legal representation with attorneys Paul Saputo and Nicholas Toufexis today.
The Unlawful Restraint law 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.
The Texas Penal Code codifies the Unlawful Restraint law under Title 5 “Offenses Against The Person,” Chapter 20 “Kidnapping, Unlawful Restraint, and Smuggling of Persons.” Learn more about the Texas offense of Unlawful Restraint below.
The current Texas law defines the offense of Unlawful Restraint in Penal Code Section §20.02 as follows:
(a) A person commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly restrains another person.
Chapter 20 of the Texas Penal Code defines a “person” to not only mean an individual, but also a corporation or an association. So, conceivably, a corporation or association of people could be both a victim and a perpetrator of 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.
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.
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. 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.
Unlawful Restraint is punished as a Class A misdemeanor unless the state can prove that one of the felony enhancements applied to the offense. Unlawful Restraint is is a State Jail Felony if the individual restrained is under the age of 17. The offense is can be enhanced to a Third Degree Felony if any of the following conditions are met:
- (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 [or committed to a civil commitment facility,] restrains any other person.
The bracketed sections are effective as of September 1, 2023.
Effective September 1, 2017, a new enhancement makes an Unlawful Restraint conviction a Second Degree Felony “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.”
The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure allows both judges and juries to grant probation for Unlawful Restraint, and judges are also allowed to accept deferred adjudication plea deals.
Note, however, that no matter the offense, neither judges nor juries may recommend community supervision for any suspended sentence of over 10 years or for any state jail felony sentence. Also, judges may not grant community supervision after a conviction if (1) the defendant used or exhibited a deadly weapon during the commission of the felony or immediate flight thereafter and (2) the defendant used or exhibited the deadly weapon himself or was a party to the offense and knew that a deadly weapon would be used or exhibited.
Any Texas Unlawful Restraint conviction or adjudication, including deferred adjudication, requires registration as a sex offender if the order in the hearing or the papers in the case contain an affirmative finding that the victim or intended victim was younger than 17 years of age.
The Penal Code classifies the punishment for Unlawful Restraint as a Class A misdemeanor, state jail felony, or third degree felony, depending on the circumstances.
Learn more about the penalty range for this offense in the section above.
^1. Texas Penal Code §20.02. This law is current as of the 88th Legislature Regular Session.^2. Texas Penal Code §20.01(4)^3. Texas Penal Code §6.02(c)^4. Code of Criminal Procedure 12.02(a)^5. See Code of Criminal Procedure 12.01(9)^6. Texas Penal Code §20.02(c)^7. Texas Penal Code §20.02(c)(1)^8. Texas Penal Code §20.02(c)(2)^9. SB 1179, 88th Texas Legislature (RS), Section 1^10. HB 2908, 85th Texas Legislature (RS), Sections 6-7^11. Texas Penal Code §20.02(c)(3), effective September 1, 2017, enacted by HB 2908, 85th Texas Legislature (RS), Section 2^12 See Chapter 42, Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Art. 42A.054, Art. 42A.056, Art. 42A.102 .^13. Art. 42A.053(c), Texas Code of Criminal Procedure^14. Art. 42A.054(b), Texas Code of Criminal Procedure^15. Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 62.001(5)(E)