Theft is a severe offense in California, especially if it involves money or resources that someone has entrusted to you. If a person or organization has trusted their property to you, and you illegally take it with the intention of depriving the owner of their property, you could face charges for embezzlement. The offense is a serious felony if the worth of the said property is $950 or more. Thus, you are likely to receive a prison sentence of up to three years upon conviction.
If you face embezzlement charges in Santa Ana, CA, it is best to hire the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney. With the right legal help, you might convince the court to drop or reduce your charges. At Darwish Law, our team of competent criminal attorneys will work on your case until you achieve a favorable outcome.
Legal Definition of California Embezzlement
California embezzlement is listed under white-collar crimes and theft offenses. White-collar crimes are serious non-violent offenses that attract hefty penalties, including lengthy prison terms and hefty fines. Embezzlement involves taking another person’s property that they have entrusted under your care, intending to dispossess the rightful owner of their property.
California law against embezzlement is under California PC 503. For the court to find you guilty of embezzlement, the prosecutor is required to prove these elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt:
- That a person or property owner trusted their property to you
- That the owner did so out of trust
- That you fraudulently used or converted the said property for your personal gain
- You did that with a plan to deny the victim the use of their property.
The prosecutor doesn’t need to prove in court that the property owner asked you to return their property. Therefore, the lack of this ‘asking’ cannot be used to defend against embezzlement charges.
To understand the offense even better, let us look at some of these elements in greater detail:
A Trust Relationship
California embezzlement charges arise out of a trust relationship, whereby a property owner entrusted the defendant with their money or property, only for the defendant to defraud them of the said property or money and their benefits. The prosecutor must prove in court that you and the victim had a trust relationship. For instance, you could have been the victim’s employee or a close friend.
It could also be a temporary trust relationship, whereby the property owner entrusted you to their valuable asset for a short period. For instance, you are a valet, and a car owner gave you their vehicle to park.
Other embezzlement cases arise when a person is hired to manage money or property, but instead, they divert the property or money to their personal use. That could happen in a business situation, whereby a person entrusts the running and management of their business to a manager.
Note that if you face embezzlement charges as an employee, the prosecutor will be required to prove the trust relationship you had with your employer in court. Without concrete evidence, the prosecutor’s case could be weak, and the court might drop or reduce your charges. The fact that you were a mere employee and your accuser your employer isn’t enough evidence to support embezzlement charges.
Example: A receptionist in a law firm may not necessarily have a trust relationship with their employer. However, things would be different if the defendant was an accountant who handles all the firm’s funds. The law firm owner trusts that the accountant would be trustworthy enough to account for and bank all the money that the firm receives as payment from clients. Therefore, the accountant is more likely to face embezzlement charges than the receptionist.
California embezzlement law also requires the defendant to fraudulently use the property the owner entrusted to him/her for their benefit. According to this law, acting fraudulently could mean any of the following:
- That you took unfair advantage of the property owner
- That you caused the property owner to incur a loss through breach of trust, confidence, or duty
Example: Jason frequently runs errands for his wealthy neighbor, Isaac. Isaac trusts Jason completely. Sometimes Isaac sends Jason a lot of money to shop for his family when Isaac is out of the country. If Jason fraudulently used some of the money sent to him by Isaac to pay his bills or take his girlfriend out, he could face charges for embezzlement. Jason may not have breached Isaac’s trust, confidence, or duty, but he took unfair advantage of Isaac. That is enough to support embezzlement charges.
Intention to Deprive Its Owner
Embezzlement charges cannot stand ground if they lack the intent for the defendant to deprive its rightful owner of their property and its use. Even a brief plan of depriving the property owner of their property is enough to support charges under California PC 503. The intention to deprive doesn’t need to be long-term or permanent.
Example: An employee takes expensive jewelry from his boss’ safe. He could be guilty under PC 503 whether he keeps the jewelry for a short period or pawns them. The intention to dispossess the owner of his/her jewelry is enough to warrant a conviction.
Remember that the court will not accept as defense your intention to take back the property to its rightful owner. The prosecutor has no way to prove your intention or willingness to reinstate the property. However, if you reinstated the property before facing embezzlement charges, the court might drop your charges.
Possible Legal Defense for California Embezzlement Charges
If you face charges for California embezzlement, it will help your case if you engage the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Embezzlement is a serious offense, attracting a severe penalty. You could spend years in prison and pay a hefty fine if you’re found guilty. Your attorney can do a lot to help your situation, including gathering the proper evidence and preparing a solid defense against your charges. Fortunately, several defense strategies are available that your attorney can use to have the court drop or reduce your charges. Some of these strategies are:
You Didn’t Fraudulently Use the Property
Fraudulent use of the property is among the elements of California embezzlement that the prosecutor must prove in court for you to be found guilty. If you did not fraudulently use another person’s property, then the evidence the prosecutor has against you may not be sufficient to support your charges. You may have taken another person’s property that they entrusted to you but didn’t take unfair advantage of them or cause them to incur a loss. If that is the case, then the court might drop or reduce your charges based on the facts of your case.
You Believed You Had Right to the Property
If you took or used another person’s property in good faith because you believed you had rights to the property, you might not be found guilty under California PC 503. It means that you did not fraudulently use the property or money entrusted to you but rightfully used what you believed belonged to you. If that is the case, you will not have taken unfair advantage of another person or caused the other person’s loss through breach of confidence or duty. Again, the prosecutor will not prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, your attorney might compel the court to drop your charges.
Example: Billy and Tom have been living in the same complex for three years now. Over the years, they have come to be great friends. One time, Billy borrows $200 from his friend Tom, promising to pay it full on payday. One Friday evening after payday, Billy passes by the local club, which happens to be Tom’s workplace. After a few drinks, Billy hands Tom $200, which Tom pockets hurriedly, assuming that Billy was simply repaying his debt. After that, the club manager accuses Tom of embezzlement for stealing money intended to settle Billy’s bill for that night.
In this case, Tom may not be guilty under PC 503 even though he took money that should have gone to settle a customer’s bill. He had reason to believe that he had the right to keep that money.
You Didn’t Intend to Deprive its Owner of Its Value or Use
California embezzlement laws require defendants to have acted with the intention to deprive. If not, the prosecutor’s evidence will not be sufficient to support a conviction. One most significant challenges prosecutors face in cases like these is proving a defendant’s intent.
For instance, you might have taken your friend’s or roommate’s valuable property just to pull a prank on them. If you acted jokingly, you may not have intended to keep the said property and so will not have planned to deprive its owner of its usefulness.
Penalties for a California Embezzlement Conviction
In California, embezzlement is prosecuted as either petty theft (California PC 488) or grand theft (California PC 487). The worth of the said property usually guides the decision of the prosecutor.
You are likely to face grand theft charges for embezzlement if the following statements are true:
- That the worth of the said property you stole or borrowed was $950 or more
- That the said property was a firearm or automobile.
California grand theft is a wobbler offense. The prosecutor can charge it as a felony or misdemeanor. If you face misdemeanor grand theft charges, you are likely to be sentenced to a maximum of one year in jail. But if you face felony grand theft charges, you are likely to be sentenced to prison for up to three years.
If the worth of the said property is less than $950, you will face charges for petty theft. Petty theft is a misdemeanor crime in California, punishable by a maximum of six months in jail upon conviction.
On top of criminal penalties, you will likely face other consequences if the court convicts you of embezzlement in California. These consequences might include the following:
The U.S immigration laws are pretty strict on anyone allowed in or admitted into the country. A conviction for certain California felonies is likely to affect your immigration situation, and a sentence under California PC 503 is one of them.
Aggravated felonies are among the inadmissible and deportable crimes in California. A conviction for any of these crimes could cause you to be deported if you are a non-citizen living in the U.S or be inadmissible if you are a non-citizen seeking admission into the U.S.
Therefore, if the details of your embezzlement case show that you face charges for felony grand theft and that the charges involve an aggravated felony, you are likely to face serious immigration consequences upon conviction.
For instance, if you have a prior conviction for felony grand theft in your criminal record or the worth of the embezzled property was more than $100,000, you could face charges for an aggravated felony.
Effects on Your Gun Rights
California law has certain offenses that are likely to affect your gun rights if you are convicted. A sentence under California PC 503 will likely affect your gun rights.
California laws do not allow anyone convicted of a felony offense to own or purchase a firearm. It means that you may lose your right to own or buy a gun in California if a court convicts you of felony grand theft for embezzlement.
A conviction record in your criminal history can be pretty damaging. Records like these are publicly available. Therefore, a conviction could affect your life in many ways, including your ability to find suitable employment.
That is why California laws allow residents to apply for expungement of their conviction records to make them publicly unavailable. This way, they’ll not influence the decisions of important people like potential employers.
If you have a conviction for embezzlement, you are entitled to expungement of your conviction record. However, you must have completed probation or jail term (whichever is relevant to your case).
California Embezzlement and Related Charges
California laws have specific crimes that are related to PC 503. Prosecutors commonly charge some of these crimes with or in place of embezzlement. They are:
Burglary — California PC 459
California PC 459 defines burglary as entering a commercial or residential structure or a locked vehicle to commit petty theft, grand theft, or any felony offense once inside.
If you face burglary charges for entering a commercial building or a locked vehicle, you could be sent to jail for up to three years if you’re convicted. But if the offense involves entering a residential building, you could be sentenced to up to six years in prison upon conviction.
The offense only requires you to enter the said structure with criminal intent. You could still be found guilty even if you did not accomplish the intended crime.
Forgery — California PC 470
You commit forgery in California if you falsify a signature or fraudulently alter specific documents. You could do this in many ways, including:
- Signing a fictitious name or the name of another person
- Forging or counterfeiting the handwriting or seal of another person
- Altering, corrupting, or falsify a record of a legal codicil, will, or judgment
- Faking, altering, or presenting as actual a fake document regarding finances, money, or property
You must have acted fraudulently to be found guilty of forgery.
Forgery is a wobbler offense in California. As a misdemeanor, it is punishable by up to one year of jail time. As a felony, you could receive up to three years of prison time.
Misappropriating Public Funds — California PC 424
You could face charges for misappropriating public funds if you misuse public funds for which you were responsible. California PC 424 is very similar to California embezzlement, but the former only applies to misuse of public money while the latter mostly applies to private funds and other property.
People who face charges under California PC 424 are public officers and trustees of public funds. A sentence under this law is a felony, punishable by a maximum of four years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. A sentence also calls for the disqualification of the defendant from ever holding a public office.
Find an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If you face criminal charges for embezzlement in Santa Ana, CA, it is advisable to engage the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney. The criminal legal process in California can be complicated. An experienced attorney will take the load off your shoulders. He/she will protect your rights, help you navigate the legal processes, and beat all deadlines. Your attorney will also plan a solid defense against your charges. At Darwish Law, our criminal attorneys have all the skills and experience you need to attain a favorable outcome of your case. Call us at 714-887-4810, and let us begin by studying the details of your case.