Embezzlement Charges in California
- Penal Code §503 -
Embezzlement – PC 503
California Penal Code section 503 defines embezzlement as “the fraudulent appropriation of money by a person to whom it has been entrusted.” It is considered one of a number of theft crimes enacted in California.
The difference between embezzlement and ordinary theft is that embezzlement does not require the perpetrator to physically take the property from another person. In other words, embezzlement is when some is given property or access to property and uses it in an unauthorized manner.
Additionally, ordinary theft requires that the defendant act with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property. Conversely, embezzlement only requires the defendant to temporarily deprive the owner of the property.
For example, consider someone working at a construction company who’s been entrusted a credit card to purchase materials. The employee is permitted to make such purchases, but nothing else. If the employee uses the credit card to make personal purchases, then the employee has committed embezzlement.
1. What are the elements of embezzlement?
No person can be found guilty of a crime, unless the prosecutor proves all of the essential components of the crime. The essential components of a crime are called elements of the crime.
The elements of embezzlement under PC 503 are as follows:
An owner entrusted property to the defendant;
The owner did so because (s)he trusted the defendant;
The defendant fraudulently converted or used the property for his or her own benefit; AND
When the defendant used the property, (s)he intended to deprive the owner of the property.
A person acts fraudulently when he or she takes advantage of another person or causes a loss to that person by breaching a duty, trust, or confidence.
The prosecutor must prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. If even a single juror has reasonable doubt about whether the defendant committed one of the elements, then the defendant cannot be found guilty of embezzlement.
2. What are the penalties for embezzlement?
If the value of the property embezzled was $950 or less, then the defendant must be charged with misdemeanor embezzlement. If the value of the property embezzled exceeds $950, then the prosecutor can elect whether to charge the defendant with embezzlement as a misdemeanor or a felony.
Penalties for misdemeanor embezzlement –
A person found guilty of embezzlement for violating PC 503 that was charged as a misdemeanor is subject to the following penalty:
Imprisonment in the county jail for up to 6 months,
A fine of up to $1,000, OR
Both that fine and imprisonment.
Penalties for felony embezzlement –
A person found guilty of embezzlement for violating PC 503 that was charged as a felony is subject to the following penalty:
Imprisonment in the state prison for a period of 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years,
A fine of up to $5,000, OR
Both that fine and imprisonment.
Probation for grand theft –
Alternatively, a person may be granted probation. Probation is a form of leniency that may be offered by the Court. Probationers are expected to comply with all the terms of their probation. Failure to comply with any of the terms could result in revocation of probation and sentencing up to the maximum permissible time listed above.
A defendant that is granted probation for misdemeanor embezzlement may be placed on probation for not more than 1 year. A defendant granted probation for embezzlement that was prosecuted as a felony may be placed on probation for up to 2 years.
A judge may also order several days of jail time as a condition of probation.
3. What are some common defenses to embezzlement?
There are many defenses an experienced criminal defense lawyer can use to defend someone accused of embezzlement. Consider the following defenses:
Good Faith Use –
A person’s good faith belief that they were permitted to use the money or property is a valid defense to embezzlement.
In determining whether the defendant held a good faith belief, jurors are instructed to consider all the facts known to the defendant at the time (s)he obtained the property, along with all the other evidence in the case.
The defendant may hold a belief in good faith even if the belief is mistaken or unreasonable.
Authorized Use –
Another common defense to embezzlement is that the defendant was actually authorized to use the money or property. It is not unheard of for a company to try and scapegoat an employee for the company’s own misappropriation of money.
When this is the case, defendants will want a good criminal defense lawyer to demonstrate that the employee was simply following the authority given to him or her by the company.
Penal Code §1001.95 Misdemeanor Diversion –
This defense is only available to those charged with misdemeanor embezzlement. Misdemeanor diversion pursuant to PC 1001.95 allows a judge to suspend the criminal proceedings against the defendant and instead order the defendant to complete several tasks.
Tasks usually include an order to pay any restitution, an order to complete community service hours, an order to stay out of trouble, and an order to pay a fine. If the defendant complies with all the terms of diversion, then the judge must dismiss the case upon completion of the tasks.
This defense is particularly valuable to defendants who are actually guilty but want to avoid a criminal conviction on their record. For more information regarding misdemeanor judicial diversion, visit the dedicated diversion page.
Defendants are usually ordered to perform some form of community service as a term of diversion.
It’s important to remember that every case is different. If you or someone you love has been charged with violating PC 503 for allegedly committing embezzlement, it is important you contact an experienced and knowledgeable theft crimes defense lawyer at JPLaw, P.C. as soon as possible.
4. Can a conviction for embezzlement be expunged?
Yes, a person who was convicted of embezzlement may be eligible for an expungement pursuant to PC 1203.4. California expungement laws permit a person that pled guilty or who was found guilty to withdraw their plea, enter a plea of not guilty, and have the case dismissed in the interest of justice.
An expungement is an excellent way to help someone clean up their past criminal record. Not only will the case be dismissed, but the defendant will legally be permitted to say they have never been convicted of a crime. This is particularly beneficial when applying for housing and employment.
That said, not everyone is eligible for an expungement of their embezzlement conviction. To learn more about the expungement process and what qualifies for an expungement, visit the dedicated expungement page.
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