In California, embezzlement means the unauthorized use of funds or property belonging to another person entrusted to your care. The crime is more complex than other theft crimes. Also, the crime involves numerous investigations. You might face harsh penalties, including paying heavy fines and serving lengthy jail terms when convicted for embezzlement. That’s why you want to work closely with a criminal defense attorney conversant with embezzlement laws in California.
At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we understand the complexity of embezzlement cases. We review all the case's details, gather enough evidence, and build a solid defense strategy to fight the charges. Our criminal defense attorneys have extensive experience in handling embezzlement cases.
Contact us as soon as the law enforcement officers arrest you over embezzlement.
What is the Legal Meaning of Embezzlement in California?
According to California PC 504, embezzlement involves the fraudulent appropriation of an item/property or money that belongs to another person. The crime is a white-collar offense in the state. The key difference from other crimes is an established relationship of trust in embezzlement. It means in this offense, the defendant has access to another person’s property or money but doesn't have lawful ownership. Also, the property must be entrusted to you as the defendant.
For example, if you took property or money for personal gain, the case would be stealing. But when the stealing happens after you violated a certain level of trust, the case will qualify as embezzlement. You want to work closely with an aggressive criminal defense attorney to help you throughout the legal process.
The Elements of Embezzlement
Before you face conviction for embezzlement in California, the prosecutor must prove all the elements of the crime. If they fail to do so, you will not face conviction for the crime. The following are the elements of embezzlement the prosecution team will have to prove before you face conviction for the crime:
Recognized Relationship of Trust
One of the critical elements of embezzlement is the established relationship of trust between you and the property owner. It means you must have had a previous relationship of trust with the property owner. The relationship might be formal or informal. Legal relationships, for instance, might occur between you and your employer, while informal relationships might involve you and your friend. Also, the recognized relationship might be temporary since your property can be entrusted temporarily. For instance, a valet or mechanic repairing a vehicle is entrusted to the vehicle owner for a short period.
It's a recognized relationship of trust which differentiates embezzlement from other theft crimes. Many people mistake embezzlement with stealing money; however, stealing money is only considered a type of theft. The law in California considers stealing physical assets or cash as larceny. The defining element of embezzlement is that the stolen property was at a point entrusted to you. It is embezzlement when a cashier steals funds or cash from their register since they are entrusted to access the funds. However, when a stockroom worker steals money from the company register, the court will consider the act as larceny.
Embezzlement involves taking money or property for personal benefits. Apart from having a recognized relationship of trust, the property in question should be appropriated for your benefit. Remember, the main aim of creating an intent to engage in the crime is to gain something. Thus the two elements are closely related. It’s good to note many cases of trust, property, money, or assets being entrusted to someone else to use for their benefits.
For instance, in many companies, the owners and management give the worker's company properties like laptops, tablets, and phones to benefit the company’s productivity. Misappropriating these properties can be described as embezzlement. Also, other companies may provide their workers with travel allowances and development funding expensed to the company. Misrepresenting or misusing these funds can be termed embezzlement. The concept here is you use the entrusted property or funds for your gains which doesn’t mean you stole the property or funds in question.
Intent to Deprive
Another critical element of embezzlement is your intent to deprive the owner of the property even when it’s a short period. So, the prosecutor can find you guilty of the crime even when you intended to return the item. The prosecutor will base their argument on intent to determine whether you’re guilty of the crime.
As discussed above, your intent to deprive the property owner relates to your thought of personal benefits. Your plan of intent might be complicated when it comes to practical affairs. Using the entrusted property is common in California, thus proving the intent might be challenging. For instance, you are using a company laptop to improve your technique, and in the process, the machine wears. Then, in this case, it will be hard for the prosecutor to prove you wanted to deprive the company of their laptop through wear. Sometimes, it's not clear to prove intent in certain cases. Thus it's best to work closely with your criminal defense attorney to help you fight the charge.
Penalties, Sentence, and Punishment for Embezzlement
The California PC 503 states the punishment for embezzlement in the state. The punishment and penalties for embezzlement vary based on whether the crime in question is petty theft or grand theft. Also, the severity of the penalties will vary depending on the value of the alleged crime. The following are the punishment and the penalties for embezzlement under petty theft and grand theft laws:
What are the Embezzlement Penalties and Punishment for Grand Theft in California?
To face an embezzlement charge for grand theft, the property in question must have a value above $950. The court will use the property's market value during the offense to determine whether it qualifies as grand theft. Vehicles tend to depreciate their value, while antiques and paintings appreciate as time passes.
Grand theft is a “wobbler” in the state. So, you can either face a felony or misdemeanor charge based on the facts surrounding the case and your past criminal record. When you face the charge as a misdemeanor, you will pay a fine not exceeding $1,000. You will also remain in county jail for up to 12 months. When you face conviction for an embezzlement felony charge, you will stay in county jail for a period between 16 months, two years, and three years and pay a fine not exceeding $10,000.
Embezzlement Penalties and Punishment for Petty Theft in California
Embezzlement might be considered petty theft under PC 488 when the property in question has a value worthy of $950 and below. Petty theft will attract penalties, including a county jail term of 6 months and a fine not exceeding $5o when you don’t have a criminal record. The court can reduce the charge to infractions when subject to a fine of up to $250.
What are the Court Options of Sentencing for Embezzlement
When you face conviction for embezzlement in California, the court has the discretion to punish you based on the facts of your case. The criminal court has various options when sentencing you as listed:
- The court might sentence you under one of the following terms as provided by the law:
- A petty theft embezzlement
- A misdemeanor grand theft
- A felony theft punishment
- Place you under a probation term and allocate a probation expert.
- Order you undergo probation without jail term, and order you participate in community services, repay the property in question and engage in a work-release plan.
- Put you under probation and inflict a sentence for 12 months in county jail.
When the court places you on probation, they will inflict conditions and terms of the probation. The terms will depend on the circumstances surrounding your crime. The following are several terms of probation in an embezzlement case:
- Visiting your probation expert as ordered by your probation terms
- Violate no law
- Pay restitution fee
- Engage in community service
The above are a few terms and conditions of probation the criminal court will inflict for your embezzlement case. When you violate any of the terms of the probation, the criminal court will sentence you to the maximum penalty provided by the law.
When the alleged victim suffered a huge loss in their property during the commission of the crime, you will have to face an additional prison term. The potential sentence enhancements will include:
- Additional two years when the property had a value above $200,000.
- Additional three years when the property in question had a value below $1.3m.
- Additional 12months when the property in question had a value above $65,000.
- Additional four years when the property in question had a value above $3.2m.
Mitigating and Aggravating Factors in an Embezzlement Case
Other factors may determine your conviction. For example, you will face severe sentences when the alleged victim is a mental disability, a senior citizen. Under this circumstance, you will face extra charges for abusing the elderly (PC 368) or even face harsh penalties when the alleged victim with a disability was independent. Alternatively, you will face a lenient penalty when you willingly return the item or property believed to be embezzled. However, returning the property will not work as a shield to protect you from the conviction.
Can You Expunge an Embezzlement Conviction in California?
Expungement will ensure the court deletes your criminal records from databases from all the companies responsible for performing a background check. Your criminal record for embezzlement will be deleted when you don’t have any past criminal record. As discussed above, grand theft embezzlement is charged as a felony. Thus the court will not erase the record, but you will be eligible for various post-conviction relief.
Since the court considers embezzlement a wobbler, your criminal defense lawyer can negotiate with the court to reduce the charges to a misdemeanor before they are expunged. Remember, a misdemeanor is a less severe offense. Expungement of your embezzlement conviction comes with several benefits, including:
- When you seek to apply for a job, you can argue you don’t have any previous conviction, either felony or misdemeanor.
- When contesting for a public office or professional license, you will not have to reveal your conviction.
- You will be eligible to apply for a state license.
- For the immigrants seeking permanent residency, embezzlement expungement will positively impact their immigration status.
How can I Fight Embezzlement Charges?
It's true a conviction for embezzlement will attract heavy fines and long-term jails. However, you can still fight the charges. But, it would help if you worked closely with a competent criminal defense attorney. A skilled and experienced defense attorney will develop the best strategy to convince the court. Remember, every case is unique, and that’s why you require the services of a competent defense attorney. Fortunately, the attorney will use a variety of possible defenses to fight the charge. The following are the common defenses the attorney will use to fight embezzlement charge:
You Did Not Have the Intent to Commit the Crime
As discussed above, one of the critical elements of the crime is intent. So, it's impossible to commit embezzlement accidentally. So, you must have the intent before even committing the crime. It means you must have known the property or money you were taking belonged to someone else who had entrusted you. Thus when your defense attorney demonstrates you did not intend to commit the crime, the court will either drop or dismiss the case.
You Didn’t Take the Property/Money
The defense is straightforward. However, you have the task to prove before the court the allegations before you are false. Thus your criminal defense attorney will seek enough evidence to prove you did not take the property or money in question.
The prosecution team must indeed have sufficient evidence for you to face conviction of embezzlement. For instance, the prosecutor must prove you were entrusted with property or funds by the owner. If you discover the prosecutor has insufficient evidence, your attorney can challenge the prosecutor and, in return, lead to case dismissal.
Demonstrate You Took the Alleged Money for Legitimate Purposes
Sometimes you might be falsely accused of embezzlement. False allegations may occur when you take company money for authorized and legitimate business purposes rather than for your benefits. However, you will need to show you had a reasonable reason to take the money or property in question, and you didn’t do anything with the property or money for your benefits. By doing so, the court will either drop or reduce the charges.
You Acted Out of Duress
When you reasonably believed harm could come to your relative or friend if you didn’t commit embezzlement, you might then prove before the court you acted so because of coercion. Thus the court will dismiss the charges. But the court will not consider it duressed when you embezzled the property or money to provide for your family. Note there must also be a direct link of harm resulting from your failure to engage in embezzlement for you to argue you acted out of duress. It's good you discuss the whole matter with your criminal defense attorney to help you develop the best defense strategy for your case.
In California, it's common for family members or business partners to accuse each other of embezzlement, mainly when the involved parties have an interest or right to possess specific property. Also, the alleged victim might falsely accuse you as they seek revenge or act out of jealousy. Again, you may face false accusations when the money in question is mismanaged, and every person suspects you embezzled the funds even when you didn’t embezzle the funds. Your criminal defense attorney may prove before the court that you are subject to false accusations and thus lead to your case dismissal.
What are Other Related Crimes to Embezzlement?
In California, several crimes are related to embezzlement, with their main difference being the critical element of the relationship of trust. These crimes are:
Petty Theft – California PC 484
Petty theft involves taking someone else's money or property without their consent. The property’s value in question must have a value below $950. When the crime involves livestock, the value should be less than $250. In California, petty theft is considered a misdemeanor offense. The penalties for the crime include imprisonment for six months and a fine not exceeding $1,000.
Grand Theft – California PC 487(a)
Grand theft involves taking the property of high value belonging to someone else without their consent. The money or property must have a value above $950. The crime is a wobble in California, meaning you will face a felony or misdemeanor charge. Misdemeanor grand theft will attract penalties, including a county jail for 12 months and a fine not exceeding $1,000. Alternatively, a felony grand theft will attract heavy penalties, including a maximum of three years imprisonment and a fine not exceeding $10,000.
Burglar – California PC 459
Burglary entails entering another person’s property or building with the intent of committing a crime while inside. You may face both charges for burglary and embezzlement when you enter a building to engage in embezzlement while inside. The prosecution team proves you broke into a building to commit theft. A burglary occurs in two forms, first and second-degree burglary.
According to the law, first-degree burglary entails entering an inhabited structure and carries a penalty of at least six years imprisonment. Alternatively, second-degree burglary involves breaking into an inhabited building and attracting three years’ incarceration. In the state, burglary attracts a wobbler charge.
Misappropriation of Public Funds – California PC 424
The offense is closely related to embezzlement. The crime occurs when a person is in charge of public funds and misappropriates them without any authority. According to the California laws, anyone who fraudulently fabricates or alters financial records related to public funds violates PC 424. Before you face conviction for the crime, the prosecutor must show you knew your actions were unlawful and you displayed criminal negligence. The offense is a felony and carries a punishment of up to 4 years imprisonment in a state jail.
Receiving stolen property – California PC 496 (a)
Receiving stolen property entails assuming items/property that belongs to another person. The prosecution team must prove you did not have permission to acquire the property in question. The prosecution team finds it challenging to prove the alleged property was stolen in many cases. According to California laws, you may face theft charges alongside receiving stolen property.
Forgery – California PC 470
Forgery involves altering, using, or creating written documents to commit fraud. Before you face conviction for the crime, the prosecutor must prove you intended to deceive the alleged victim using the forged document. Also, the prosecutor must show the alleged document was forged for your gain. Thus you might face both forgery and embezzlement charges when you use someone else’s signature and impersonate the person to cash a fake check. The offense is a wobbler in California. You will face heavy penalties for a misdemeanor, including a jail term of 12 months. Alternatively, when a felony, the crime carries a jail term between 16 months, 2, or 3 years in county jail.
Fraud Crimes – California PC 476
You commit fraud crimes when you engage in an act that unfairly benefits yourself, causing damages or loss to other people. In California, the offense might be prosecuted alongside embezzlement. The common fraud crimes in the state include mail fraud, insurance fraud, check fraud, and real estate fraud.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
When you face an embezzlement charge, you must contact a skilled criminal defense attorney right away. Embezzlement is a serious offense, especially when it involves grand theft. A conviction for the crime could result in lengthy jail terms, among other harsh penalties. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we are here to help you fight the charge. Call us at 951-946-6366 today for a free consultation, and our skilled attorneys will begin working on your case immediately.