Misappropriation of public funds is non-violent criminal conduct often committed for financial gain. When accused of PC 424, it's a challenging and possibly life-changing experience. The accusation can ruin your reputation and name and threaten the possibility of holding any public office in California. A conviction can also result in serving time and paying fines. With financial scandals flooding the media, prosecutors are zealous in pursuing the convictions.
For this reason, you need an attorney who knows what to do and has what it takes to get the job done. Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm has extensive experience and knowledge with complicated financial documents and financial transactions that might be paramount in your prosecution. We'll thoroughly represent your interests, so you can protect your future and rights and acquire the most favorable case results.
Defining Misappropriation Of Public Funds
Under PC 424, it is a crime to misuse public money by government agencies and officials or any person with control of the funds allegedly misappropriated.
The crime is identical to embezzlement, but with one main difference. While PC 424 bans conduct committed with public money, embezzlement makes it illegal to misuse any money, regardless of private or public.
There are many actions in which a defendant can misappropriate public funds. They include:
Appropriating Public Funds With Authority
You misuse public funds when you allocate money to another person or your use without the law's authority.
To be convicted of this type of PC 424, the prosecutor ought to verify the following facts of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You're an employee of the local or state government agency or tasked with the disbursement, transfer, receipt, or protection of public money
- You appropriated the money to another person's or your use without the law's authority
- You either knew your behavior was illegal or were criminally negligent in not learning whether you had the authority to make the allocation.
A public officer may be a worker or official of the local or state government entity. They can be a rank-and-file government worker, an elected public official, or an appointed person.
As far as this statute is concerned, knowing your actions were criminal does not imply that you understand every element of the California laws. It implies that you know that the law bans your conduct.
Criminal negligence rises above ordinary negligence. Failing to exercise reasonable or ordinary care is considered ordinary negligence. On the other hand, criminal negligence ought to be irresponsible, gross, or aggravated.
Refusing to Pay or Transfer Public Money
You can also be found guilty of PC 424 if you:
- Intentionally omit or fail to pay or transfer public funds in your control when issued with an order, warrant, or draft concerned the money by a professional entity, when required by law to act so, or
- Deliberately refuse or omit to pay the money you received to any person that the law authorizes to receive it
To be convicted of this form of PC 424, the prosecution must verify that you must have known or ought to have known that the law requires you to pay that money.
Fraudulently Terminating or Changing an Account or a False Account
Additionally, you misappropriate public funds when you engage in any of the acts below:
- Knowingly keep a fake account materially or make materially a wrong entry or counterfeit erasure in an account associated with public funds, or
- Destroy, obliterate, hide, falsify, or change an account connected to public funds, intending to defraud
In layman's language, a person can break the statute even when they did not misappropriate the money, provided they deliberately tampered with accounts or destroyed or changed the accounts aiming to defraud.
Loaning, Profiting from or Misusing Public Moneys Without Authority
You misappropriate public money when you make an unauthorized loan.
You break this form of the crime if all the statements below are correct:
- You are a state or local government authority employee or tasked with the disbursement, transfer, receipt, or safekeeping of public money,
- The law banned or allowed you to loan public funds or to use the money under specific circumstances,
- You loaned public funds, earned profits off that money, or used the money for purposes not authorized by law, and
- You were either aware or ought to have known your behavior was illegal.
Exception for Breaking the Misappropriation of Public Funds Law
There is an exemption of misusing an incidental and negligible amount of money. A defendant cannot be sentenced for conduct involving an insignificant amount of money.
What is considered a significant amount depends on the case circumstances. Sometimes, a couple of thousands might be a sizable amount while the same amount is deemed an incidental and small amount in another situation.
Consequences and Penalties for Violating California PC 424
Penal Code 424 is charged as a felony. It is punishable by the following potential penalties and consequences:
- Felony probation
- A maximum of four years of incarceration
- $10,000 in fines
Finally, if you're sentenced for misappropriation of public funds, you cannot hold any public office or job in California.
How to Beat Your Criminal Charges
Violation of PC 424 is a high-profile case covered in media reports leading to detrimental consequences. Luckily your criminal defense attorney could carefully review your case's underlying facts so they can develop the most effective defense method aimed to get lesser charges, acquittal at trial, or case dismissal. Some of the common defenses in PC 424 cases include:
- Lack of intent in misappropriating the money — To be found guilty of PC 424, there should be proof that you willfully and planned to use the public money. Your criminal defense lawyer could present evidence like bank statements and payment receipts to establish financing projects as your supervisor directed you.
- Your lawyer could argue that you didn't realize that your action was unlawful and you did not plan to misuse the money. Provided you are honest, you could use the mistake of fact as a legal defense.
- The money didn't qualify to be public funds — Public money refers to the cash from the government for assisting the public in acquiring specific goods and services. The government obtains the money from revenue generation methods like taxation, fine payments, and licensing. Your criminal defense lawyer could claim the money you spent didn't originate from the government.
- You violated the offense under duress — The court might pardon you after realizing that you violated the law because you reasonably believed your life was in danger. The defense lawyer might urge that somebody else threatened or coaxed you into depositing money into their account. You can establish your innocence using recorded calls and text messages. The court might dismiss the charges and then prosecute the perpetrator.
- The defendant acted out of necessity — The court might reduce the criminal charges if you spend the money to prevent more significant losses or consequences. For instance, you decided to avoid a potential fraud attempt by spending the money. It is a legal defense if you reported the issue to the relevant authorities, but they did not respond accordingly. Or maybe you did not have the opportunity to report the matter.
- Insufficient evidence — Each criminal case needs compelling evidence. A case without sufficient proof might result in case dismissal.
Below are some of the white-collar offenses charged alongside or in place of misappropriation of funds.
Bribery of Public Officials (PC 68 and PC 67)
While this crime is often filed against a government worker, it can be filed against an individual who isn't a government employee but trying to bribe a government worker.
Ideally, the law makes it an offense to offer anything of high value or cash to a government worker or for a worker to solicit money intending to engage in corruption.
If found guilty of bribing a government employee, you will face a wobbler. You will be prosecuted with a felony or a California misdemeanor depending on the case facts and the total worth of the asset or funds involved. However, a government worker who accepts or solicits bribes is subjected to a felony.
California embezzlement is fraudulently appropriating assets that belong to another individual and have been charged to you.
You could only be found guilty of PC 503 if you fraudulently changed or used the asset for your benefits and planned to deprive the asset owner of their property's use.
If the worth of the asset taken is not more than $950, the crime is a misdemeanor. If this property is valued more than that, the crime becomes a wobbler. A wobbler can be either a felony or a California misdemeanor, depending on the case facts.
Nevertheless, if the involved property belongs to the government, the alleged offense is a California felony.
Signs You Might Be Under Investigations for Misappropriation of Public Funds Charges
If you find yourself in a situation where you might be faced with PC 424 allegations, it is essential to understand what to anticipate. Unlike many crimes, the law enforcers will notify you that you are under investigation immediately after the investigations have started. Generally, some things happen before the notification, so it's brilliant to know what to keep an eye on.
If you've noticed any of the below signs, you should speak with a lawyer straight away. The earlier you get legal representation, the most effective the defense could be.
A Law Enforcement Agency Contacts You
More often than the police will contact individuals they suspect might be involved in white-collar crimes before starting their official investigations. They might attempt to speak with your colleagues or you about your company. Although it might not look like you're the target of the duty call, it is essential to discuss this event with your lawyer.
If the prosecution has brought a subpoena for a document, it is an indication that you are under investigation. Even if you can avoid speaking with the law enforcer, you have a responsibility to adhere to the request, even if that will get you in trouble.
A State Agency Contact You
It isn't always a must that the law enforcement authority will contact you during the investigation's initial stages. At times, other agencies can be involved.
You Received a Target Letter
Another unique thing about PC 424 crime investigations is a target letter. Generally, the prosecuting attorney sends the target letter to the suspect, notifying them that an open investigation exists. It will also advise you of what the investigations are about and what responsibilities and rights you have.
A Word on the Street
From time to time, you can learn about investigations involving you from another person. It can be a colleague who heard about a person being given a grand jury subpoena for testimony. Maybe it is a friend who had the police come to their home to interview them.
A Search Warrant
Nothing is more shocking than having a law enforcement agency come to your office or home and search you. Getting a search warrant means you are under investigation. The officers think there is evidence of misappropriation of public funds in your home or office and that the court agrees with the law enforcers.
The law enforcers will interview your colleagues or loved ones about what they are investigating. They also expect you to make statements that they can use against you later in a court of law.
Additionally, government officials can take computers, phones, and hard drives when executing the search warrant. They act so they can collect evidence, such as incriminating emails.
There are rules of a search warrant, and you should take note of them.
First, the search warrant should be supported by probable cause. In other words, the officers should swear out an affidavit to a judge with facts to prove that there is probable cause to believe if a search is conducted, the officers will find proof of the offense.
Second, the warrant should describe what the agent should search and take.
What to Do If You Are Under Investigations
If you are under investigation, you should be proactive.
First, you need to hire a qualified lawyer with substantial white-collar crimes experience.
Second, you should work with the attorney to understand what is happening. You should figure out what took place with the issue under investigation and what the government is doing.
If the government contacted you, you should understand that the government has your name and status within your investigation. Your attorney should call the prosecutor. That way, the government will know that you have legal representation and should speak with the attorney instead of you. The lawyer will also know what is happening with the investigations.
If you learned of the investigations from a friend, you might want your lawyer to reach the prosecutor. Whether that is wise depends on the case circumstances, and the legal counsel can guide you accordingly.
Third, collect as much information as possible. Ensure you are honest with the attorney about what you know and what happened. The lawyer relies on the information to develop your legal defense.
Finally, allow your attorney to do the talking on your behalf. Do not call a person involved in the investigations and spill your guts or email your family about what took place. What you say or do could reach the prosecutor and be used against you in a court of law.
Understanding the Constitutional Rights of a Defendant
Now, more than ever, you must understand that the constitution grants you rights under several amendments and the Bill of Rights. Any breach of the rights might lead to your case dismissal.
First, the prosecutor should prove your guilt beyond any reasonable doubt before convicting you of the crime.
Other constitutional rights include:
Entitlement to Remain Silent
The 5th Amendment offers that you can't be compelled to be a witness against yourself. It is what people mean when they plead the fifth. The right keeps you from self-incrimination when questioned by the police or prosecutor.
Right To Enjoy Legal Representation
According to the Sixth Amendment, all defendants should have the help of a lawyer for their defense. If the accused person cannot afford counsel, the court should appoint a public defender before sentencing the defendant.
Your criminal defense attorney will work aggressively to protect your constitutional rights throughout the case by:
- Arguing the judge to reduce the bail amount
- Being present during investigations, police interrogations, and interviews
- Advising you about the available plead options and the consequences of pleading guilty
- Collecting evidence regarding your misappropriation of public funds allegations and interviewing witnesses
- Analyzing the circumstance of police searches during the investigation and of the arrest to identify 4th Amendment violations
- Assisting you to decide whether to plead guilty to receive a less severe sentence or lesser charges or to take the case to trial
- Determining and developing the most effective legal defense for your case
- Representing you during the trial and other court hearings
Right to Confront Witnesses
The right allows you to cross-examine witnesses and ask them questions. You can also call supporting witnesses to testify on your behalf.
It is illegal for the prosecutor to prove your guilt using written or oral hearsay from a non-testifying witness unless the judge settles that the hearsay is non-testimonial. Please note that any statements made to the police seeking details about your previous criminal record are testimonials.
Entitlement to a Public Trial
The presence of your loved ones, the press, and ordinary citizens in the courtroom can ensure that the court observes fundamental rights related to the court proceeding.
Entitlement To a Speedy Trial
The 6th Amendment to the United States Constitution gives you the entitlement to a speedy trial. Nonetheless, it doesn't specify the time limit. Therefore, depending on the case, the judge decides whether the accused person's trial has been delayed so the court can throw out the case. When determining, the judge will consider:
- The reason for the delay
- Whether the delay has harmed the accused individual
- The length of the delay
Entitlement to Adequate Representation
The court expects you to enjoy adequate representation during plea bargains and at trial. The lawyer should be good enough at defending you.
Nevertheless, adequate representation is different from perfect representation. Below are examples of claims that accused persons have made to get the guilty verdicts dismissed that the courts have rejected:
- The lawyer did not contact favorable witnesses at trial
- The attorney repeatedly advised a person who claimed innocence to plead guilty
- The lawyer did not object to the court's mistaken instructions to jury members regarding the burden of proof
Should You Plead Guilty or Go to Trial on California Penal Code Section 424 PC Criminal Charges?
Being charged with a crime can be confusing and terrifying. Things also move fast, and it could be tempting to take the initial plea offer the prosecution team makes. Should you? Sometimes, it would be best to accept the plea offer, but as with all negotiations, you should ensure you take the best deal.
A plea bargain is an agreement where the defendant enters a guilty plea to the alleged criminal charge. In return, the prosecutor drops or reduces the charges or recommends lesser penalties to the judge.
Here are some of the questions you need to ask yourself before accepting the plea bargain:
Have You Spoken with Your Criminal Defense Lawyer?
Before accepting the offer, you need to talk to a skilled defense lawyer. The attorney understands the California legal process and could determine whether a plea bargain offer is a decent one or not. While you might be familiar with the judicial process from a loved one's experience, the lawyer has previously handled similar cases and understands possible sentences and recent prosecution trends better.
Additionally, your lawyer can examine the proof against you and develop strategies to fight the charges. If the prosecutor realizes that their case against you might be weak, they might not hesitate to offer a better deal to avoid losing the case.
Is the Offer in Your Best Interests?
Given the pressure that comes with criminal charges, it is possible to do anything that makes the struggle end. However, it would help if you understood that the prosecutor is neither your friend nor your legal counsel. They might attempt to persuade you that it's in your best interests to take the offer on their terms or face more severe criminal charges or penalties.
Sometimes a plea bargain is offered because the proof against you is weak, and the prosecution thinks they will lose the case. The prosecutor might also offer it to lower their workload. Whatever the reason, it is essential to understand that they do not have your best interests at heart.
Consequently, you should review whether the offer is in your best interest or not. After all, there are numerous penalties to a conviction beyond the sentence you will serve. It could affect the ability to hold a public office, secure any employment, future, paying a lot of money as court fees or fines, ruin your reputation, and carries a stigma. Also, if you plead guilty, you waive your entitlement to a trial. That means you cannot appeal the verdict if sentenced unfairly.
Find a Riverside Criminal Lawyer
PC 424 is the misuse of public money by government agencies and officials or any person with control of the funds allegedly misappropriated. If convicted, you will face a felony that is punishable by serving time, paying fines, among other serious consequences. Consequently, it would be best if you worked with a person who understands the California judicial system. The legal team at Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm is committed to upholding your rights through all stages of the process. We offer free initial consultations and can work aggressively to obtain the best possible case outcome for you. You can contact our legal office at 951-946-6366.