How California Laws Define Embezzlement
California Penal Code 503 is the statute that makes embezzlement a crime in California. Under this statute, embezzlement is defined as unlawfully taking property or money that someone else has entrusted to you.
A prosecutor should prove four factors for a successful conviction. These factors include:
A person entrusted you with their property
That person did so since they trusted you
You fraudulently converted or used the property for your gain
You had the intention to deprive that person of the property
Please note, the prosecution doesn't have to prove that the property owner asked you to return their property while prosecuting you for embezzlement.
From the elements of crime described above, you can summarize them in the following way:
Below is a closer look at these three elements.
Relationship of Trust Between the Property Owner and You
A successful conviction for embezzlement requires the prosecutor to prove an existing trust between a property owner and the alleged embezzler. Some of the examples that show a relationship of trust include:
Being the property owner's employee
Having a temporary possession of another person's property like when a valet is given a car to park
Being a manager of another person's property or money
Please note, in the case of being another person's employee, the terms of the employee-employer relationship must show concrete evidence of confidence or trust. Therefore, the mere fact that you're an employee is not suitable enough to support embezzlement charges.
Fraudulent Use of a Property
Under this statute, a person fraudulently uses someone else's property by taking undue advantage of that person or causing a loss to the property owner by breaching confidence, trust, or your duty.
This means that prosecution must prove that your fraudulent use of a particular property benefitted you at the expense of the property owner.
Intention to Deprive
A conviction for embezzlement requires the defendant to have deprived the property owner of their property for a particular time, no matter how temporary it is.
Please note that planning to return the property or repay money does not count as a defense strategy.
Examples of Embezzlement
There are unlimited ways that a person can commit the crime of embezzlement. However, most forms of embezzlement occur in financial institutions or are committed by people with authority. By going with these five types, you'll have a clear understanding of this crime.
Forging checks involves writing a check to yourself and then trying to alter relevant financial information to conceal the action. This is common in companies that rely on senior employee's signature or signature stamps to write checks.
Cashing on Customers Checks
Financial institutions employees can cash on a customer check by endorsing a client's check and keeping the money. In this type of crime, the employee usually sets up an account with a fictitious name similar to the employer's business to receive payment from clients.
Overbilling involves billing a client more than the required amount and keeping the extra money. Employees usually cover this up using fictitious account entries. In some cases, clients are billed the same amount in several amounts. Other cases involve overbilling a transaction that lasts for a long time in small amounts. It can also include charging customers for services or items that they didn't purchase.
Siphoning is common with people working as cashiers in stores and restaurants. These people devise a way to pocket money from a registry without creating any difference between what the computer is showing and the cash at hand. They usually don't enter particular items in the computer as part of the registry and have to keep track of their money once their shift is over.
Lapping is typical in businesses that accept incoming payments from vendors and customers. For instance, if a person is working in a church's capacity, they can use bank deposits for several companies and change the allocation of these funds to cover the cash they've taken from the church's account. Accumulating funds as a person of authority qualifies the crime as a money laundering offense.
Penalties for Embezzlement in California
In California, embezzlement is punished as grand theft or Petty theft depending on the type and value of the property in question. Embezzlement can be charged as grand theft if it involves a property that's worth more than $950, a firearm, or an automobile.
If you are convicted of grand theft, the case becomes a wobbler. A misdemeanor can lead to one year of custody in county jail. A felony conviction attracts a maximum of one year in county jail or sixteen months, two or three years in county jail.
If the crime involves depriving another person of their firearm, the crime becomes a felony. The potential sentence for embezzlement of a gun includes sixteen months, two, or three years in the state prison.
Please note that embezzlement of a firearm is a serious felony in California, meaning that there are possibilities to include a "strike" under California's three-strike law.
The court will charge you with petty theft if you're guilty of embezzlement of a property with a value of $950 or less. Petty theft is a misdemeanor offense punishable by custody in county jail for a maximum of six months and a maximum fine of $1000. However, the judge might award you summary probation in place of serving jail time.
Penalties for Embezzling Public Money
Embezzlement of public money in California is a felony. A defendant convicted of embezzling public funds can be subjected to penalties like returning the stolen property or funds and a prison time between two to four years. In addition, the official will also be marked ineligible for any position with the local or state government, according to California Penal Code 514.
White-Collar Crime Enhancement
If you are convicted for two or more felonies, including embezzlement or fraud, leading to a combined loss of more than $100,000, the court will subject you to an aggravated white-collar crime enhancement. This enhancement adds a maximum of five years of imprisonment to your sentence.
Penalties for Embezzling an Elder or Dependent Person's Property or Money
A defendant who holds a special trust for a dependent or an elder is at risk of facing additional penalties as per the provision of California Penal Code 515. This includes anyone tasked with caring for elderly relatives, living in an assisted living facility, or a person with a mental or physical disability.
Immigration Consequences for Embezzlement in California
A conviction for embezzlement in California might have negative immigration consequences on a non-citizen. Under the United States Immigration Laws, certain types of crimes can lead to the deportation or marking as inadmissible of a non-citizen. Once you are charged with a felony grand theft embezzlement or embezzlement that involves the use of a firearm, you will probably face these immigration consequences.
Effects on Your Gun Rights
A conviction for embezzlement in California might affect your gun's right. California laws prohibit felons from possessing or owning a firearm. Therefore, if you are convicted of a felony grand theft, you'll lose your right to own or have a gun indefinitely.
Sentencing Enhancement and their Condition
Defendants involved in embezzlement of high-value property or monetary loss can face additional consequences for their actions. These sentencing enhancements include:
An addition of one year if the property involved is worth more than $65,000
An addition of two years if the property involved is worth more than $200,000
An addition of three years if the property involved is worth more than $1,300,000
An addition of four years if the property involved is worth more than $3,200,000
Possibilities of Expungement
A person convicted of embezzlement can have their charges expunged after completing probation or completing a jail term, whichever the court finds relevant. Of course, you can still have the offense expunged even after violating your probation terms, but this decision is made under the judge's discretion.
Expungement is the release of all penalties and disabilities that arise from a conviction. Once your charges are expunged, your criminal history will not appear on public domains.
Legal Defense Strategies for Embezzlement Charges
Since there are harsh penalties associated with embezzlement in California, it's crucial to assert solid and suitable legal defense strategies to increase the possibility of reducing or discharging your charges. Below are some of the legal defense strategies that you can use.
Lack of Fraudulent Use
A successful conviction for embezzlement in California requires the defendant to use another person's property or money fraudulently. However, if you didn't take undue advantage of that person or caused loss to that person by breach of confidence or duty, you aren't guilty of this crime.
Having a Good Faith Believe in a Right to the Particular Party
Defendants are innocent of embezzlement if they acted with a good faith belief that they had the right to the property or money in question. The jury or a judge will decide if this belief is defensible by assessing the facts of the specific case. Your trust in good faith still holds even when you are mistaken or acted unreasonably.
No Intention to Deprive
You can only be guilty of embezzlement in California if you had the intention to deprive a property owner of their property. Therefore, if your defense proves that you had no intent to deprive the property, the court will probably dismiss your case. This kind of scenario is common when you take someone else's property to pull off a joke.
Claim of Authority
Defendants can claim that they took the property in question during the scope of duties through a trust instrument or power of attorney. An arrangement requiring the intervention of an agent to obtain the property can also support the dismissal of your case.
Claim that There Was No Demand
Although demand for a property that's alleged to be embezzled is not part of the elements of crime, the property owner should make a written request or demand for the return of the alleged embezzled property. The defendant's refusal reflects criminal intent. However, if the owner demanded a return of the property, you can use neglect or another criminal reason for not returning the property.
Almost 40% of embezzlement cases are dropped due to a lack of compelling evidence from the prosecution. Remember, prosecutors must prove beyond doubt that you were involved in the alleged crime for a successful conviction. Therefore, if there is insufficient evidence to support the allegations, the court might dismiss the charges.
Please note, the sufficiency of the evidence presented in a case depends on the judge or jury present in the alleged crime. Therefore, it's upon your attorney to acknowledge this and adopt relevant defense strategies.
Claim that You Were Under Duress
If someone threatens you or uses violence to force you to act against your better judgment in an embezzlement case, the jury may find you innocent of the crime since this circumstance might cause you to commit the crime. However, you should note that common" pressure" does not amount to duress. For instance, if you decide to embezzle funds to pay bills or provide for your family, this does not constitute embezzlement.
Disproving the Fiduciary Relationship
It's challenging to establish no fiduciary relationship between a victim of embezzlement and an accused. However, California courts have ruled that employer/employee or creditor/debtor relationships shouldn't be presumed without evidence of trust or confidence. Therefore, if there is no proof of a relationship between you and the accuser, there are chances that the court will dismiss your case.
Find a Reliable White Collar Crime Attorney Near Me
If you have been charged with embezzlement in Long Beach, CA, don't hesitate to contact the Long Beach Criminal Attorney. We understand the ramifications of a conviction and how it can potentially devastate your life. That's why we're committed to providing the best legal services to you and all our clients. Contact us today at 562-308-7807 and schedule an appointment.