Embezzlement is a surprisingly common crime in the state of California. People assume that embezzlement can only occur in a white-collar context. This is simply not true, as the elements for the criminal charge of embezzlement can be satisfied in many contexts and need not involve large sums of money. Embezzlement may be committed with property or cash. The purpose of this article to explain how California defines embezzlement and what the penalties are for the crime.
If you have been charged with embezzlement, it is critical that you contact a skilled and experienced California criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. The state’s prosecutor will be working to prove every element of the charges against you beyond a reasonable doubt. For this reason, you need a skilled attorney to defend your legal rights and explore every avenue of doubt.
California Penal Code 503 Criminalizes Embezzlement
Embezzlement is a fairly complicated crime involving several legal elements. Under California Penal Code 503, you may be charged with the crime of embezzlement if an owner of property (e.g. cash, personal property, real property) entrusted the property to you, did so because he or she trusted you, and you fraudulently converted or used the property for your own benefit while intending to deprive the owner of the property or its use. As you can see, embezzlement is a multi-layered crime. This means that the state’s prosecutor will have to put a lot of work in, as there are so many elements to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
- First, there is entrustment. The state’s prosecutor will have to prove that the victim, whether directly or through a valid agent, entrusted you with the property in question.
- Second, the prosecutor will have to prove that the victim trusted you. Common valid bases of trust include employer-employee and bailor-bailee relationship. The latter relationship involves a temporary transfer of possession of property (e.g. when you give the keys of your car to a valet to park it).
- Lastly, fraudulent conversion is synonymous with taking or using. The fraud aspect of fraudulent conversion is present when you seek to take unfair advantage of the property-entrusting person or intend to cause that person a loss by breaking his or her trust or intentionally failing to honor a duty.
Embezzlement Penalties Depend on the Value of the Property
The more embezzled, the greater the punishment is the most general rule with regard to penalties of an embezzlement conviction. Accordingly, the court will look to the nature and extent of the property in question. Smaller violations may be categorized as a misdemeanor rather than a more serious felony charge. Conviction for either, importantly, may result in jail time. For this reason – for your freedom – it is essential that you contact a skilled and experienced California criminal defense attorney to mount the strongest possible defense against the state prosecutor’s efforts to obtain a conviction.