In California, people are legally required to pay money in the form of taxes to the government. The taxes are public funds, meaning they are only supposed to be used for their intended purposes. Although the crime of misappropriation of public funds does not involve violence, it severely affects municipal areas and government projects. You could face criminal charges under Penal Code 424 of California law if you misuse public funds for personal gain. A misappropriation of public funds charge does not have to lead directly to a conviction. Instead, you could challenge your charges by seeking the services of a competent criminal defense attorney to help you create a convincing defense. Our attorneys at the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney can help you create a solid defense to fight the charges.
Misappropriation Of Public Funds Under California Law
In California, the crime of misappropriation of public funds is defined depending on the section of the law the defendant has violated. You could commit this crime in several ways under Penal Code 424 of California law. Some of the ways include:
Refusing To Pay Or Transfer Public Funds
You could face charges for misappropriation of public funds if you do the following:
- Willfully refuse or fail to pay money received by you to any person or officer authorized by law to receive it.
- Willfully refuse or fail to transfer or pay public money in your control when presented with a warrant, order, or draft drawn upon that money by an experienced authority, when you are required by law to do so
You can only face charges of misappropriation of public funds under this form if you knew you were required by law to pay the money. You could also face the charges if you were negligent for not knowing that the law required you to do so.
Appropriating Public Funds When You Have No Authority
Under California law, appropriating funds for your personal use or the use of another person without the authority of law is one of the ways of misusing public funds. Public funds appropriation without proper authority involves obtaining public funds and using them for own benefit or distributing them illegally to other people without legal consent.
Under the law, it does not make any difference as long as the acquisition of money was unlawful. However, if the prosecutor accuses you of appropriating public money without authority, he/she must prove the following elements for you to face criminal charges:
- You were a state officer, a local government entity, or a person charged with the transfer, receipt, safekeeping, or disbursement of public funds.
- You appropriated public money for your use or another person’s use without the authority of law.
- You were aware that the law prohibited this appropriation or was negligent for failing to determine whether you had the legal authority to make this appropriation.
In California, a ‘’public officer’’ is any employee or official of local government or the state agency, including the following:
- A rank-and-file government employee
- An elected official
- An accountant or lawyer employed by the government
- An appointed official
The prosecutor could charge you with misappropriation of public funds if you are entrusted with public money. This is if you are entrusted with the duties or obligations associated with it and have control over the receipt, disbursement, or safekeeping of public money.
Appropriating public money entails using it for personal gain or the benefit of another person, like a family member or friend.
Being aware of being criminally negligent is the most crucial element of the misappropriation of public funds offense. You can only face the charges outlined under Penal Code 424 if the following is true:
- You were aware that it was against the law for you to appropriate funds in the manner you did
- You acted with criminal negligence by failing to find out whether it was against the law
Knowing that your conduct was illegal does not mean that you were aware of all the details of the law. It only means you knew that the law prohibited the behavior you engaged in. Additionally, under California law, ''criminal negligence'' exceeds ordinary negligence. Criminal negligence could be aggravated, gross or reckless, while ordinary negligence is failure to exercise reasonable or standard care.
A False Account, Fraudulently Altering Or Destroying An Account
You could face misappropriation of public funds charges in California if you do the following:
- Alter, conceal, obliterate, or falsify any account of or relating to public money with the intent to defraud
- Knowingly keeping a materially false account or making any materially false entry erasure in any account of or that relates to public money.
You could face charges under this section even if you did not directly engage in the act. You only need to knowingly tamper with the accounts for public money and destroy or alter the accounts with the intent to commit fraud.
Profiting From, Loaning, Or Misusing Public Funds Without Authority
In California, profiting from public funds could include using the money to benefit from them or lending the money out to acquire a significant interest. It is a crime in California for a public officer to loan public money to gain profits from them. You could be guilty of misappropriating public funds if you illegally use public funds to gain profits knowingly. You could also face charges for violating this section of Penal Code 424 if the following statements are true:
- You made a profit off public money, loaned public money, or used public money for a purpose not authorized by law.
- You were an officer of the local government, a state entity, or a person charged with the safekeeping, receipt, transfer, or disbursement of public funds.
- You were aware that your actions were illegal or negligent for not finding out if it was legal.
- A non-penal law prohibited you from loaning public money or using public funds under certain situations.
Exception To A Violation Of PC 424 — Incidental Or Minimal Amounts
Misappropriation of funds statute in California makes an exception for misuse of ‘’incidental and minimal’’ amounts of money. You cannot face charges under Penal Code 424 if your activity only involves a negligible amount of money.
Penalties For Misappropriation Of Public Funds
Often, prosecutors charge misuse of public money as a felony. If you are found guilty of this crime, you could face the following penalties:
- A fine that does not exceed $10,000
- Felony or formal probation
- A jail term of two, three, or four years in a state prison
You could face a harsher sentence if you have a prior criminal record, particularly with other theft offenses. You will have limitations from holding any public office in California once convicted of the crime. A conviction for violating Penal Code 424 is more severe for California state employees than a typical criminal charge.
Legal Defenses For Misappropriation Of Public Funds
It could be stressful and intimidating to face criminal charges, mainly if you are up against a government authority. You risk losing your career if convicted of misappropriation of public funds. You could also have a bad reputation and a terrible criminal record. However, facing allegations of misappropriating public funds does not mean you will be guilty of the offense. Several defenses are available to fight your misappropriation of public fund charges. Some of the defenses include:
You Were A Victim Of Police Entrapment
Entrapment is among the common white-collar defenses in California. Entrapment often happens when the law enforcers initiate criminal activity and induce you to escalate it. In this situation, you need to seek the services of a competent criminal defense attorney. The attorney will help you prove that the police officers caused the unlawful act. For example, the attorney could allege that you could not have enhanced the act if the police had not entrapped you. Your attorney must provide sufficient evidence to show that the law enforcers’ actions induced a law-abiding person to commit the offense.
For example, the law entrapment official could pretend to be a person needing a loan and request you to loan public funds. Even after you have stood your ground, the officer could insist that you are not interested in engaging in fraudulent schemes. In this case, you could make a reasonable argument for entrapment, and your charges could be dismissed.
Lack Of Intent In Misappropriating The Funds
There must be evidence that you intended to willfully use public money to face charges of misappropriating public funds. With the help of your attorney, you could prove that you used the money for its intended purpose. Some of the evidence you could present include providing bank statements or payment receipts. The evidence could show the usage of money in funding a project as directed by the supervisors. You could allege that you did not intend to misuse the money and did not realize that your actions were unlawful. You can rely on the ''mistake of fact'' as your legal defense in court as long as you are honest.
You Are A Victim Of Mistaken Identity
This defense is often used in white-collar offenses. A quick investigation could have led the law enforcers to you. With the help of your attorney, you could allege that the law enforcers mistakenly identified you through assumption. For example, you could be charged misappropriation of funds you did not take, primarily if you work in a bank in the accounting department. The bank could assume you took the money since you work in the accounting department. Your charges can be dismissed if you convince the court that you are a victim of mistaken identity.
You Did Not Act With Criminal Negligence And Had No Knowledge
According to Penal Code 424 of California law, you can only face charges of misappropriating public funds if you know your behavior was unlawful. Credible defense of lack of knowledge is applicable if you did not attempt to hide whatever you were doing. However, the prosecutor can state that you were c negligent for not knowing whether your behavior was unlawful.
Unlike ordinary negligence, criminal negligence often has higher accountability. The prosecutor must provide evidence that you acted recklessly for you to face charges. Unfortunately, it is hard to prove actual knowledge and a high degree of negligence. You can't be guilty of misappropriating public funds if you honestly believe your conduct was lawful. You could support this defense with a lack of criminal negligence.
The Amount Of Public Money Spent Was Insignificant
Under Penal Code 424 of California law, you can only face charges of misappropriating public funds if the money involved exceeds the minimum threshold. You can't face charges if the misappropriated amount is negligible. However, a sufficient amount depends on the specific circumstances.
For example, you could work in a private institution sponsored by the government. The institution receives $20,000,000, and you spend $100 to fund your shop. In this case, the amount you misappropriated is minimal compared to the funding the institution received. However, you could be guilty of embezzlement.
You Committed The Crime Under Duress
The judge could pardon you if he/she discovers that you committed the offense with a reasonable belief that your life was in danger. For example, you could allege that a third party threatened you to embezzle the money to their particular account. Some evidence you could present to prove your innocence include recorded calls and text messages. The court could drop your case and charge the right perpetrator.
Funds Did Not Qualify To Be Public Funds
Public funds come from the government to assist citizens in accessing certain services and goods. The government generates cash from revenue collection methods, including taxation, fine payment, and licensing. Therefore, you could allege that the money used did not come from the government. Your attorney could also prove that the funds you used were not for any public member.
You Acted Out Of Necessity
The judge could reduce your charges if you spend the money to avoid significant repercussions. For example, you could spend the money to avoid potential fraud attempts on the money. In addition, your defense could be valid if you tried to approach those in power, but they failed to respond. You could also have had no adequate time to report the matter.
Lack Of Enough Evidence From The Prosecution
In California, each case filed in court requires compelling evidence. Therefore, criminal cases without substantial evidence could be dropped.
Misappropriation And Embezzlement
Misappropriation and embezzlement of public funds hinge on the illegal use of someone else's assets, especially in a business setting. Misappropriation is embezzlement of funds and not any other form of property. For example, if you work for a company as a treasurer and divert the company money to your account, you have embezzled and misappropriated the money.
On the other hand, embezzlement involves taking property you already possess but do not own. For example, when you are entrusted with controlling another person's property and misuse it, you could face embezzlement charges. Embezzlement involves both funds and other items.
What You Should Do If You Are Under Investigation For Misappropriation Of Public Funds
You should consult a competent defense attorney immediately after you learn that you are under police investigation for misappropriation of public funds. You should avoid talking to police or detectives because they cannot be trusted. When the police question you, they are not trying to clear your name but to collect evidence to use against you. When the police talk to you, the following applies:
- They believe you witnessed the commission of the offense, and they could threaten you with arrest if you fail to cooperate.
- They think you committed the offense but lack probable cause to charge you. Often, they hope you will make a self-incriminating statement and arrest you later based on your statement.
- They think you committed the offense, and they have probable cause to arrest you. They will allow you to provide more evidence before they serve you a search warrant. They will also be looking for an inconsistent statement to create charges against you and possibly lead them to your accomplices.
The police officers can also do the following when they question you:
- They have interrogation methods, including coercive methods to make you confess to the crime. This method is also known as the Reid method, and it makes even an innocent person admit because of psychological pressure.
- The police can lie regarding other people’s testimonies or evidence
- They will record the interrogation
- They can threaten you with an additional or enhanced criminal charge if you fail to say what they want to hear.
No matter how much law enforcement officers persuade you to record a statement, you should not give in if your attorney is absent. You have to right to an attorney. However, you also have a right to remain silent because anything you say could and will be used against you in a court of law.
Several white-collar crimes in California are related to the misappropriation of public funds. They include:
Bribery Of Public Officials — Penal Code 67
Bribing any executive officer is a crime under Penal Code 67 of California law. An executive officer could be a government official who often uses discretion in their duties. They could include deputy city coroners, district attorneys, police officers, and police chiefs. If the prosecutor accuses you of violating Penal Code 67, he/she must prove the following elements:
- You gave or offered a bribe to an executive officer
- You acted with the corrupt intent to illegally influence that officer’s official act, opinion, vote, or decision
Under Penal Code 67, a ’bribe’ refers to the following:
- A promise to give something
- Something of value or advantage
You could act with corrupt intent when you act to wrongfully gain a financial or another advantage for yourself or someone else.
The crime of bribing public officials is charged as a felony offense. If you are found guilty of this crime, you could face the following penalties:
- Substantial fines
- A jail term that does not exceed four years in a state prison
A conviction for violating Penal Code 67 could negatively affect your gun rights. People convicted of a felony cannot possess, own, or buy a gun. Additionally, a conviction of bribing a public official could have negative immigration repercussions. Some felonies, including bribery, could amount to aggravated felonies based on the facts of your case. If you are a U.S non-citizen and you are convicted of these offenses, you could be considered inadmissible or even deported.
However, you can get your conviction expunged even after your conviction. This can only be possible if you avoid a jail term.
If the prosecutor charges you with bribery of public officials, several defenses are available for you to contest the charges. Some of the defenses you could present include the following:
- You are a victim of false accusation
- The person subject to a bribe was not an executive officer
- You were coerced to confess
- You did not act with a corrupt intent
- You committed the crime because of police entrapment
Fraud often happens when you misrepresent facts to gain something in return. The prosecutor can only charge you if the deceit is intentional and aimed at causing the victim of fraud to take action upon the facts. If the prosecutor accuses you of fraud, he/she must prove the following elements:
- You had the intent to make the false statement
- You prepared a statement of facts, knowing they were wrong
- The victim believed the information was true
Find A Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
The repercussions could be detrimental if you face misappropriation of public funds charges in California. In this case, you need to move fast to find a top-tier attorney who will maximize your chances of a fair conviction. At the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we have extensive knowledge of the law and the court dynamics involved in misappropriating public funds cases. We have defended many clients facing misappropriation of public funds charges with positive outcomes. You could also benefit from our proven legal representation. Contact us at 424-333-0943 to talk to one of our attorneys.