Everything You Need to Know About California PC 424
Misappropriation of public money is a white-collar crime covered under Penal Code Section 424. The law criminalizes misusing public funds (using public funds for personal use or unrelated public benefit). Typically, in Long Beach, this crime is charged against local and state public officials accountable for the money. It can also be filed against any individual who controls government funds.
An example of a violation of PC 422 is when five officials were charged with the crime after burying hazardous waste at the Central Valley water district. After the drums of hazardous waste were discovered, the California audit revealed that the official misused at least $100,000 of public money on personal expenses and items like concert tickets, vehicle upgrades, home improvements, and slot machines. There are numerous ways that you can violate PC 424, including:
Appropriating Public Money to Your Use or of Somebody Else Without Authority
Before convicting a person, the prosecution should prove the following elements of the offense:
- The defendant is a government officer or responsible for receiving, keeping, transferring, or disbursing public money,
- They appropriated government money for their use or somebody else without the authority of law, and
- They were aware that the conduct was an offense or criminally negligent in not knowing whether they were lawfully permitted to make the appropriation.
An Individual Entrusted With Government Moneys or Public Officer
A public official can be any state, local, or federal government authority worker. It cuts across elected officials, appointed officials, and government employees like lawyers and accountants.
Moreover, you can face these criminal charges provided you are assigned duties and responsibilities associated with or can control disbursement, receipt, and safekeeping of public money.
Criminal Negligence or Knowledge
Knowing your conduct was illegitimate does not indicate that it is a must that you knew all PC 424 details. It means you knew that a law banned your actions.
Ordinary negligence is different from criminal negligence. Ordinary negligence happens when you fail to act with reasonable care. On the contrary, criminal negligence is reckless, aggravated, or gross.
Loaning and Profiting from the Misuse of Public Money Without Authority
People also misappropriate public money when they make an unauthorized loan.
You, the defendant, violate Penal Code Section 424 if every statement below is correct:
- You are a local or state government official or tasked with keeping, transferring, disbursing, or receiving public money
- A law approved or banned you from giving loans using the funds or using it under given circumstances
- You gave a loan using government funds and made profits, or used the funds for reasons unauthorized by the law
- You were either criminally negligent in failing to discover it was a crime or aware that your conduct was an offense
Deceitfully Destroying or Changing an Account or a False Account
You also engage in misappropriation of public money when you either:
- Purposefully keep a substantially fake account or make a significantly counterfeit entry or false deletion in an account of or associated with government money, or
- Change, destroy, obliterate, or conceal an account associated with public funds, planning to defraud
An individual could face PC 424 charges even if they did not misuse any money as long as they intentionally tampered with a public money account or changed or destroyed the accounts intending to engage in fraud.
Declining to Transfer or Pay Any Public Money
Another way a person breaks PC 424 is when they:
- Intentionally fail or ignore to pay or transfer government money in their regulation when presented with an order, warrant, or draft drawn upon the money by a qualified authority, when the law requires them to do so, or
- Deliberately fail to pay funds they received to an individual authorized by the law to receive them
What are the Penalties
The crime in question is charged as a felony, carrying the following consequences and penalties:
- Felony probation
- A four-year maximum sentence
- A maximum fine of ten thousand dollars
Additionally, a PC 424 conviction carries more severe penalties for government employees than typical convictions. If sentenced, you will no longer be eligible to hold any California public office.
PC 424 criminal charges attract attention from the public and media and could potentially damage your career, life, and finances. The legal team at Long Beach Criminal Attorney is ready to help you fight the criminal charges using the following legal defenses:
The Defendant Was Neither Criminal Negligent Nor Acted Knowingly
The accused can only be convicted of Penal Code Section 424 if they acted with criminal negligence by failing to learn their behavior was a crime or knew that it was unlawful. Typically, it is challenging for prosecutors to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the defendant was aware their behavior was illegal.
The legal strategy in question is a form of mistake of law. If the accused had a mistaken but truthful belief that the behavior was legal, they could not be found guilty of the offense, even though it was neglectful to believe so, provided the negligence is not gross.
The Amount of Money Involved was Incidental and Minimal
PC 424 does not clearly define incidental and minimal. However, a serious violation of this code section applies to any amounts beyond incidental and minimal.
Case circumstances determine whether the amount is minimal and incidental or not.
How Does PC 424 Differ from Embezzlement?
While embezzlement is similar to PC 424, they are different. Embezzlement under PC 503 means you deceitfully appropriated an asset belonging to somebody else that you are entrusted with. PC 503 applies to all properties, including money and assets not belonging to the government.
Generally, violation of PC 503 is a wobbler depending mainly on the involved property’s value. If the property's value is not above $950, the defendant will face misdemeanor charges. On the other hand, embezzlement of government property is a California felony.
What to Do If You are Under Investigation
Once you learn that you are under police investigation, you should immediately speak to a seasoned defense attorney before talking to the law enforcement agency.
When most people receive a call from detectives or have the detectives come to their workplace or place, they think:
- If they fail to talk to the law enforcement, the officers will think they are guilty
- If they retain a lawyer, the officers will think they misappropriated public funds
- If they speak with the police, the issue will go away
- They can talk their way out of the matter
- They can trust the law enforcement
- They have nothing to conceal, so why would not they speak with the officers
These seem like reasonable arguments and reactions to any law-abiding citizens until you understand what the investigators are doing and how the criminal justice process works.
Why You Should Not Speak With the Officers
If the detectives want to question you about the white-collar crime, they are not clearing your name. Instead, they are collecting evidence to prosecute you.
If the officers want to talk to you, here are the possibilities:
- They think you committed the crime, but they do not have probable cause to prosecute you. They hope you will make a self-incriminating statement and later arrest you based on your statement.
- They think you committed the crime and have probable cause to arrest you. Before the officers serve you a search warrant and detain you, they will give you a chance to provide more evidence and inconsistent statements to build the case against you and possibly lead them to your accomplices.
- They believe you witnessed the commission of the crime. Generally, police threaten witnesses with arrest should they fail to cooperate.
You should know that during the police questioning:
- The officers will and can lie about other individual’s testimonies or evidence
- The officials can threaten you with an enhanced or additional criminal charge if you fail to say what they want to hear
- The interrogation will be recorded
- The detectives have interrogation techniques like the Reid technique (coercive models tailored to make persons confess to offenses — Even innocent people confess due to psychological pressure)
How Your Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help You During the Investigation
Once you consult a lawyer, they will notify the law enforcers that you hired them, and from that point forward, every communication should be through the legal expert.
Do not talk to the law enforcers without your attorney’s advice. The investigation is a vital stage in the legal process. Depending on case facts, your counsel can negotiate less severe criminal charges or non-criminal resolutions or prevent a charge from being filed.
If criminal charges are filed against you, they can arrange your release on bail timely. Your lawyer will keep you updated throughout the legal process and ensure that you know and protect your rights.
Frequently Asked Questions
Discussed below are some of the most commonly asked questions about PC 424:
1. Why Should You Hire a Criminal Defense Lawyer If You are Charged With the White Collar Crime?
PC 424 is often leveled against powerful and intelligent government employees like most white-collar offenses. The defendants are often the take-charge types. However, you do not want to handle serious allegations on your own. Any mistake you make during your investigation or after the prosecutor files the charges can adversely affect your future and life.
Be proactive and retain a lawyer from Long Beach Criminal Attorney. We have an understanding of how California's legal system works. Additionally, we know what proof to collect and how to build a strong defense for you.
2. Should You Plead Guilty to the Crime?
Before taking any plea, consult with your defense lawyer. Although the deal could be appealing, remember the prosecutor is neither your legal counsel nor has your best interests at heart. Your attorney will explore different options and review the deal’s terms with you.
You lose your right to appeal the judge’s verdict if you plead guilty. You will also spend time in jail.
3. How Does the Prosecution Prove Intent?
Common pieces of evidence that the prosecutor uses to prove intent include:
- Testimonies from your accomplice
- Electronic and written communication like text messages, phone calls, and emails
- Proof that you tried to conceal the criminal activity
- Proof that you profited from the crime
- Evidence of your false statements or misrepresentations
4. How Long will the Felony Stay on Your Criminal Record?
The felony conviction will remain on your criminal record forever until you take action. After serving time and meeting your probation terms, you can file an expungement petition. Under PC 1203.4, expungement allows you to be released from almost all penalties and disabilities arising from the crime.
If you face misappropriation of public money charges, law enforcers have already devoted many hours and resources to building a case for your prosecution. In white-collar investigations, every action and word has potentially damaging effects. If you believe that you are targeted by investigators or have uncovered self-incriminatory evidence, do not hesitate to consult with a skilled attorney. The lawyers at Long Beach Criminal Attorney have made a career out of assisting clients in realizing the most favorable case results against the government. We will not take your case for granted and can develop defense strategies tailored to your case circumstances when we take your case. We can also keep you informed and updated throughout the legal progress and answer your questions. Please contact us at 562-308-7807 to schedule your initial no-obligation and confidential consultation and learn how we can help you.