In California, embezzlement is classified as petty or grand theft, depending on the property's value. Penal Code 503 explains embezzlement as fraudulently appropriating money or property belonging to another person. The property owner should have entrusted the property to you. Embezzlement does not need the intent to keep the property; unauthorized borrowing can also amount to embezzlement. This offense does not only refer to crimes involving vast amounts of money. Misusing small amounts of money or property could also be grounds for an embezzlement charge. If you face embezzlement charges, you should contact a competent defense attorney to help you fight the charges. At the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, our experienced attorneys will help you navigate the legal system to ensure you receive a fair judgment.

What The Prosecutor Must Prove

If the prosecutor accuses you of embezzlement, Penal Code 503 requires that he/she proves the following elements:

  • The property owner entrusted you with their property directly or through an agent
  • The property owner trusted you
  • You fraudulently converted the property or used the property for your
  • You intended to deprive the owner of the property

The Property Was Entrusted To You

Several circumstances can establish a relationship or expectation of trust between you and the property owner. Consider the following contexts:

  • The property owner had given you temporary possession of the property
  • An employee/employer relationship existed
  • You were a board member, trustee, or principal of a company, and therefore you had the right to manage the company's property or money.

You could be entrusted with managing a company and its accounts. If you take money each day from the company’s account and use the funds for your gain, you are guilty of embezzlement. Additionally, for you to face embezzlement charges under PC 503, the prosecutor must also prove that you had the confidence or trust of the property owner.

Fraudulently Taking Or Using The Property

Acting fraudulently means causing a loss to another person through a breach of confidence, trust, or duty. It could also mean taking unfair advantage of someone else. You could face embezzlement charges if you benefited from the property owner’s loss.

Intent To Deprive The Owner Of The Use Of The Property

You can only face embezzlement charges if the element of intent to deprive the owner of the property is evident.

Embezzlement And Grand Theft

For embezzlement charges to apply, a relationship of trust must exist between the defendant and the victim. Embezzlement involves stealing or misappropriating money entrusted to you. On the other hand, grand theft consists of stealing money or property that was not entrusted to you. Grand theft charges only apply if the property value is $950 or more. However, embezzlement charges can apply even if the property value or the money involved is less than $950.

However, despite the differences between grand theft and embezzlement, the two crimes have similar penalties under California law.

Penalties Of Embezzlement

The penalties for embezzlement vary depending on the type of property involved and its value. You could face grand theft penalties according to Penal Code 487 if the property involved is as follows:

  • It amounts to $950 or more
  • It is a gun
  • It is a vehicle

If the prosecutor charges you with embezzling several properties valued at $950 or less for 12 months, this crime will be treated as grand theft embezzlement, provided the individual crimes amount to $950 or more. Prosecutors charge grand theft embezzlement as a wobbler offense. Therefore, you could face misdemeanor or felony charges depending on the following:

  • Your criminal history
  • The circumstances of your charges

You will face petty theft charges if you embezzle money or property whose value doesn’t exceed $950. Petty theft is charged as a misdemeanor according to Penal Code 488. The possible penalties you could face include the following:

  • A fine that does not exceed $1,000
  • Misdemeanor probation
  • A jail term that does not exceed six months in a county jail

You could face the following penalties if the prosecutor charges you with misdemeanor grand theft embezzlement:

  • A fine that does not exceed $1000
  • Misdemeanor or informal probation
  • A jail term of up to one year in a county jail

Grand theft of a firearm is often charged as a felony. If the prosecutor charges you with felony grand theft embezzlement of firearms, you could face the following penalties:

  • A fine that does not exceed $10,000
  • Felony or formal probation
  • A jail term of sixteen months, two, or three years in a state prison

Felony Probation

Not every person charged with a felony crime in California is eligible for felony probation. You must be eligible for probation according to California law. The judge will only grant you felony probation where the interests of justice would be served by providing probation or in exceptional situations.

If you are eligible for probation, the judge will send a probation officer to you. The probation officer will scrutinize your previous criminal record and history, as well as the facts of your case. The officer will then write a recommendation to the court to deny or grant you probation. The probation officer will also recommend if you should pay restitution and what restrictions should be imposed during probation.

The judge will use the recommendation as part of the judgment-making process while determining the penalty you should face. In some situations, a probation officer is not involved because your criminal defense attorney and the prosecutor could organize a plea bargain and set a probation term.

If the court grants you felony probation, you will be subject to several probation terms. The terms include the payment of penalties and restitution to the victim.

Misdemeanor Probation

If the prosecutor convicts you of embezzlement as petty theft and you do not pose a risk to the victim, the judge could grant you misdemeanor probation. However, misdemeanor probation is always hard to understand. Therefore, you need to confirm the terms of your probation with a competent attorney to ensure that you adhere to them.

If you are eligible for misdemeanor probation, the judge will not impose a jail term on you, provided you adhere to the terms outlined in the probation. The judge could choose to revoke your probation if you fail to comply with the conditions of your probation. The most common terms of misdemeanor probation include:

  • A commitment not to engage in any new crimes during the probation period
  • Notify your probation officer immediately you have changed your telephone number or moved to another location
  • Completion of a certain number of hours of community service
  • Pay restitution to the victim
  • Check-in with a probation officer regularly

You could face severe penalties if you embezzle property belonging to an elderly person or a person with a mental or physical impairment. In addition, you could face additional convictions and penalties for elder abuse according to Penal Code 368.

Sentence Enhancement  

If the embezzlement causes a high monetary loss to the property owner, you will face an additional and consecutive sentence. The sentence enhancements are as follows:

  • If the property embezzled exceeded $65,000, you could face a one-year sentence enhancement
  • If the property embezzled exceeded $200,000, you could face two years sentence enhancement
  • If the property embezzled exceeded $1,300,000, you could face three years sentence enhancement
  • If the property embezzlement exceeded $3,200,000, you could face a four-year sentence enhancement

Immigration Consequences of an Embezzlement Conviction

At times, embezzlement could be charged as an aggravated felony. Aggravated felonies are crimes of moral turpitude in California. In addition, a U.S. non-citizen could be deported or marked as inadmissible if found guilty of this crime. Therefore, a non-U.S. citizen must consider the immigration repercussions that an embezzlement conviction could have.

If you face deportation, you will not be subject to a separate criminal or felony deportation process. The process begins when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) commences your removal proceedings. There are some factors that DHS considers when determining if your charges qualify for immigration consequences. The factors include:

  • If the judge has ordered some form of penalty or restraint on your liberty to be imposed
  • If the jury or the judge has found you guilty, you have entered a guilty plea or admitted enough facts to warrant a guilty conviction.

Expungement Of An Embezzlement Conviction

Under California Penal Code 1203.4, an expungement of a criminal conviction allows you to withdraw a guilty or no-contest plea and dismiss your case. Therefore, when the judge grants you an expungement in an embezzlement conviction, you will be free from many negative repercussions of the sentence.

 You could qualify for an expungement irrespective of whether you were charged with a misdemeanor or felony embezzlement, provided the following applies:

  • You served a jail term in a state prison, but you would have served it in the county jail had the offense been committed after the implementation of ''realignment'' under Proposition 47
  • You did not serve the jail term in state prison for the criminal case
  • You completed probation for the offense

There are no limitations on disclosing expunged convictions to potential employers in California. In the past, an expunged criminal record was unlikely to be accessed by anyone except the police. However, information companies started indexing criminal court records into large national databases, which can be accessed by date of birth and name. The new technology permits potential employers, professional organizations, and licensing agencies to conduct a background check and locate your criminal record in minutes.

Gun Rights And A Felony Embezzlement Conviction

You could lose your gun rights if you are convicted of an embezzlement crime as a felony. California is strict regarding guns, and its gun statutes are among the most stringent in the entire United States. You could face a ten-year or lifetime ban, depending on the type of crime and other circumstances. It is upon the discretion of the California governor to restore your gun rights. According to Penal Code 29800, if you are convicted of a felony in California, you can be considered guilty of a felony for purchasing or owning a gun. Therefore, convicted felons are not supposed to possess or own a firearm.

Defenses to Embezzlement Charges

If you face embezzlement charges, several legal defenses can help you challenge your charges and obtain the best outcome. Each case has unique evidence and circumstances that will need a close review of the details. Some common defenses you could use include:

False Allegations

You could allege that your embezzlement charges are based on misleading evidence and false accusations. For example, the said victim could falsely accuse you because he/she was motivated by jealousy, anger, or revenge. The victim could also have made a mistake regarding the property taken or who took the property. This defense aims to cast reasonable doubt; if you succeed, you could obtain a favorable outcome.

Lack Of Intent

You could allege that you did not intend to deprive the owner of their property. Prosecutors often find it hard to prove criminal intent in most embezzlement cases. The prosecutor must provide evidence that you had a specific intent to defraud the property owner entrusted to you through the fiduciary relationship. You could claim you made an honest mistake but never intended to commit embezzlement.

Good Faith Belief

In certain embezzlement charges, you could claim that you had good faith belief that you were acting with the owner’s consent to their property. This defense can only be valid if you have not tried to conceal your actions.

No Demand For Property

While demand is not valid as an element of the offense under the law in California, the property owner could write a request or make a demand for the return of the property. Your refusal, if any, could show your criminal intent. Conversely, if the property owner fails to make a demand, you could present a defense of neglect or an alternative criminal motive.

Claim Of Authority

You could claim that you took the property rightfully during your work duties. In addition, you could also allege that you took the property through another arrangement requiring the acts of an agent to obtain the property.

The Challenges Of Prosecuting Embezzlement Perpetrators

It is common for victims of embezzlement to expect the district attorney and the police to charge the crime enthusiastically at public expense. The victims’ expectations also gear towards obtaining a refund as part of a plea bargain. Often, this does not happen. Unfortunately, the police and the district attorney are seldom enthusiastic regarding arresting and convicting embezzlement defendants.

Unlike other violent offenses, the juries seldom view white-collar crimes as critical to protect public safety. Prosecutors and juries often do not like handling embezzlement cases because their proof involves complicated bookkeeping and providing evidence of financial transactions for many years. If the amount of money is not huge, the police and prosecutors prefer the victims to bring civil actions to obtain relief.

Since embezzlement cases constitute a high burden of proof, prosecutors often claim that they do not have sufficient resources to investigate long histories of financial transactions. As a result, the prosecutors often advise the victims to go for civil prosecution. Unfortunately, these claims disappoint most victims because civil prosecutions cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Furthermore, in a civil prosecution, the judgment could be unenforceable if an embezzler does not have sufficient resources. Therefore, most employers decide to fire employees instead of prosecuting the embezzler. This is also another reason why embezzlers repeat their offenses with new employers.

Civil Remedies For Victims Of Embezzlement

An embezzlement victim could file a civil lawsuit against you in addition to a criminal case. Civil remedies seek to compensate the victim for any loss incurred due to your actions.

Most embezzlers often have the following thoughts when a victim opts for a civil process:

  • Cooperating with the civil action and arranging a stipulated way of paying restitution to the victim
  • Hoping that the district attorney will not commence criminal action when the embezzler makes the settlement

Commencing a civil action and working closely with the district attorney is often the primary strategy for embezzlement victims to seek recovery. It is often unrealistic for the victim to expect the district attorney to bring the criminal case to a jury trial. However, some exceptional attorneys are always ready to take the embezzler to prison.  

Related Offenses

Several offenses in California are related to embezzlement. They include:

Burglary — Penal Code 459

In California, the crime of burglary is defined under PC 459 as ‘’entering a structure or locked vehicle with the intent to commit petty theft, grand theft or any felony while inside’’. When the prosecutor accuses you of burglary, he/she must prove the following elements

  • You entered a building, a room within a building, or a locked vehicle
  • At the time of entering the building, room, or car, you intended to commit theft or a felony
  • The value of the property you stole or intended to steal was more than $950
  • The structure you entered was not a commercial establishment
  • The structure you entered was a commercial establishment, but you entered outside the business hours

You could face burglary charges based on whether you are convicted of first-degree or second-degree burglary. First-degree burglary is often charged as a felony under California law. You could face the following penalties if you are found guilty:

  • A jail term of two, four, or six years in a California State prison
  • A fine that does not exceed $10,000
  • Felony or formal probation

First-degree burglary could also count as a ‘’strike’’ crime according to California’s Three Strikes law.

Second-degree burglary attracts lesser punishment than first-degree burglary. Second-degree burglary is charged as a wobbler offense. The prosecutor could charge you with a misdemeanor or a felony. If the prosecutor charges you with a misdemeanor second-degree or commercial burglary, you could face the following penalties:

  • A jail term that does not exceed one year in a county jail
  • Misdemeanor or summary probation
  • A fine that does not exceed $1,000

If the prosecutor charges you with a felony second-degree burglary, the following penalties could apply:

  • A jail term of sixteen months, 2, or 3 years in a county jail
  • Felony or formal probation
  • A fine that does not exceed $10,000

However, you could contest your burglary charges as follows:

  • Police misconduct
  • Factual innocence
  • Mistake of fact
  • Lack of intent

Receiving Stolen Property — Penal Code 496

It is a crime under PC 496 in California for any person to receive stolen property, provided you know that the property was stolen. As a result, you could face misdemeanor or felony charges. For a misdemeanor violation, the potential charges include a summary or misdemeanor probation. The court could also order you to pay a fine that doesn’t exceed $1000. You could also serve up to one year in county jail.

If the crime is a felony, the potential penalties include a formal or felony probation, imprisonment of up to three years in a county jail, and a fine of not more than $10,000. This crime will only be a misdemeanor if the property value doesn't exceed $950. If the value exceeds $950, the offense is a felony, irrespective of whether it is a first or repeat offense.

Forgery — Penal Code 470

The crime of forgery is defined under PC 470 of California law. You could commit this crime as follows:

  • Changing or falsifying any legal document
  • Faking a seal or another person’s handwriting
  • Signing another person’s name

Forgery is also a wobbler offense, chargeable as a misdemeanor or felony. The penalties you face will depend on how the prosecutor classifies the offense. You can use the following legal defenses to fight forgery charges:

  • You did not have the intent to defraud
  • A victim of false accusation
  • The police coerced you into a confession

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

An embezzlement conviction could have adverse consequences, including losing your job. If the prosecutor accuses you of embezzlement, you should contact an attorney immediately to craft a defense to fight your charges. At the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we have skilled attorneys with years of experience handling criminal offenses. We can help you to create a solid defense. Contact us at 424-333-0943 to talk to one of our attorneys.