Misappropriation of public funds is a crime that primarily doesn't involve violence. However, it affects many state and federal government projects in the US and the dependents. That's why the court considers the crime severe and handles it with seriousness. As the offender, the crime will affect your personal and professional life in addition to the heavy fines, long jail terms, and incarcerations.
When the law enforcement officers arrest you in Santa Ana, CA, over misappropriation of public funds crime, you need to hire a well-trained and experienced attorney. The attorney will be instrumental to the success of your case. At Darwish Law, our attorneys are ready to develop a defense strategy to build a strong defense. We start by reviewing your case to come up with a strong strategy. Please do not wait until it's too late. The earlier you contact our attorneys, the faster we will help you fight for your rights.
The Legal Meaning of Misappropriation of Public Funds in California
The law in California criminalizes the misappropriation of public funds. The offense involves the people in public trust misusing the money/funds entrusted to use or control. Primarily, the crime is equivalent to embezzlement. In many cases, the county's official, federal, state, or municipal, faces conviction for the crime.
When you commit a crime in California, you need legal help as soon as possible. Handling the case by yourself is a challenging process. The crime comes in various forms, as discussed below.
Varieties of Misappropriation of Public Funds in California
Public money may come from either the federal, local, or state government. The funds are set aside to benefit society rather than benefiting the individuals. Therefore, using public money intentionally for your benefit is a crime in California. You might engage in the offense in various ways. The following are common ways public funds might be misused in California.
Misuse of Public Money Without Authority
The prosecution team might build their case depending on evidence supporting whether you allowed someone else to benefit from the money or you benefited from the funds allocated for the public without lawful consent.
The team will have a hard time proving you embezzled the money or disobeyed the laws governing the use of the funds. They must prove you intentionally engaged in the misappropriation of public funds. Also, the prosecution team must prove you were an official of the state or local government receiving, transferring, managing, or distributing public money. These officers include hired workers, elected officers, or appointed officers.
In many cases, the perpetrators obtain the money for personal benefits. They may issue the funds to their friends or family members. You will face conviction for the crime regardless of the recipient of the funds provided the means were unlawful. You must have known it's illegal to distribute the alleged money as the offender.
Altering Accounts, Destroying Accounts, and Creating False Accounts
Another common variety of Misappropriation of public funds is altering existing accounts, creating fake accounts, and destroying existing accounts. The creation of fraud accounts is illegal in California. So, making false accounts carry heavy penalties. The crime involves changing to present information, deleting some information, and entering wrong information into a public record.
When you alter a public account, you violate PC 424. Apart from altering the accounts, there must be intent to commit the crime. You will not face conviction unless the prosecution team proves the crime.
Loaning or Profiting Public Money Without Authority
Loaning or profiting from public money entails lending money to acquire significant interests to obtain benefits. Public officials are prohibited from loaning or profiting from public funds in California. Therefore you will be guilty of the crime when you illegally use public money. Making unauthorized loans or profit from the funds violates PC 424. Before you face conviction for the crime, the prosecution team must prove the following elements of the crime:
- You Profited or Loaned the Funds in an Unauthorized Way.
- You were not allowed to loan or use the money under specific circumstances.
- As the offender, you are an official of state, federal, or local government safekeeping, handling, or receiving public funds.
- You knew your acts were unlawful or did not attempt to understand whether the profiting or loaning was illegal.
You had an obligation to Control the Funds
In California, the prosecution team will want to know whether you had control over the alleged funds. The prosecutor will have an easy time convicting you once they discover you had control over the money. But if they fail to prove the elements, you will not face conviction.
Failure to Transfer or Pay Public Funds
If you intentionally and willfully fail to pay or transfer when required, you will face conviction for misappropriation of public funds. However, the prosecutor must prove you knew you should have paid or transferred the funds to the correct recipients.
Who is a Public Official in California?
According to PC 424, a public official in America is an employee of the federal government, state government, or local agency. They include:
- Appointed or elected officers
- Rank and file employees
- Any person without a federal or state job but entrusted with public funds.
So, a public official is anyone with control over public funds either by safekeeping, disbursement, or general control. A common example of crime is when a person runs a nonprofit institution that receives funding from both state and federal government.
When the person withdraws some money from the institution's account and uses it for other purposes, under this situation, you will face charges for misappropriation of public funds under PC 424 even if you are a public employee or official because you had the authority to control the funds.
What are the Potential Defenses for Misappropriation of Public Funds?
You might find the process stressful and intimidating when you face criminal charges, especially against the federal or state government. Once you face conviction for the crime, you will face heavy penalties. In addition, you will have a bad reputation and criminal record in your criminal history. Note any accusation for misappropriation of public funds does not translate to conviction for the crime. So, you can fight the charges.
However, you require the legal services of a well-trained attorney. The attorney will build a solid defense to challenge the evidence provided by the prosecution team. The following are the potential defense strategy your criminal defense attorney will use:
The Alleged Money was Minimal or Incidental
It is not clear what it means by minimal or incidental. However, the law considers the misappropriated amount to be considerable. Also, what the court considers as significant funds will depend on the circumstance of your case. In many cases, the court considers thousands of dollars as a considerable amount. Alternatively, in rare cases, small amounts are considered incidental amounts.
For instance, Jane is a treasury at the department of navy funded by the federal government. She has access to the funds. Every year, the department receives millions of dollars from the government. In 2020, the department will have a total of 8 billion dollars. Jane decides to take one thousand dollars from the department and repair a car. Although she knows her acts are illegal, she will not face conviction for the crime. The fact is that the amounts involved are minimal and incidental compared with the total amount of funding.
You Had No Intent to Commit the Crime
The intent is a vital element of many crimes, which the prosecutor must prove before you face conviction. The prosecutor must show evidence of willfulness or intent to commit the crime. Therefore, you will not face conviction when you have no intention to hide public funds or transfer them to a fake account. But, when the court considers you to be criminally negligent, you will face conviction. Examples of intent to commit misappropriation of public funds include bank statements and payment receipts.
In California, criminal negligence comes with higher accountability. So, the prosecution should show your behavior was reckless during the occurrence of the crime. If you strongly believe your actions were lawful, you will not face conviction for the crime.
The Alleged Money Did Not Qualify as Public Money
You might wonder which finds qualify as public funds. This includes money issued by the government to help the general public obtain certain goods and services. The federal and state governments gather these funds from revenue, including taxation, fines, and licensing. So, your attorney may argue the alleged funds were not made for the benefit of the general public. The criminal court will consider dropping or reducing the charge.
You Acted Due to Necessity
The court may consider reducing or dropping your charges when you spend the alleged money to avoid great consequences. For instance, you decide to avoid possible fraud attempts by spending the funds. However, the defense will be applicable in cases where you tried to access the authorities without a response and had insufficient time to report the case. Your defense attorney will also need to support the argument.
You Acted Out of Duress
The law in California allows you to use the defense when it's believed you acted so because your life was in danger. Your criminal defense attorney may argue you were threatened by a third party to misuse the funds. You can use evidence like recorded calls and text messages to support your claim. When the court is convinced you acted out of coercion, the criminal court judge will convict the right perpetrator or reduce your charges to a minor charge.
In California, entrapment is common in many cases. Sometimes the police may induce you to commit a crime. However, your defense attorney must prove that you could not have committed the crime if not for the police entrapment. Therefore, there must be a link between the police acts and your engagement in the crime. For example, a law enforcement officer pretends to be an unlawful drug dealer.
The officer then proceeds to make arrangements to purchase drugs from you. But, you inform the officer you aren't interested in committing the fraud scheme. So, if the officer pressurizes you to commit the crime, it becomes police entrapment.
Lastly, you can use the defense of mistaken identity to fight the charge. A hasty police investigation may result in mistaken identity. Your criminal defense attorney will help you argue you were mistaken for another person. For instance, you work in a bank account. During work time, huge amounts of money disappear. Since you work in the accounting department, you took the amount. Under this situation, the court will consider dropping or reducing your charges.
Crimes Charged Alongside Misappropriation of Public Funds
There are other crimes charged alongside the misuse of public funds. The crimes are committed through deceit to receive assets or money. Although the crimes are related to PC 424, they have different charges depending on the nature of the crime. The offenses related to PC 424 include:
Bribing A Public Official
Bribing refers to offering or receiving the money to influence the action of an official or any other person managing a public office. When a public official provides or receives a bribe, they violate PC 67or 68. Violation of PC 67 or PC 68 may either be a misdemeanor or a felony. The offense is treated as a felony when committed by a public official.
To face conviction for the crime, the prosecutor must prove the following elements: you issued or received something of value, you had a corrupt intent, and you altered an official decision. The penalties for violating bribery laws in California include imprisonment in state prison for up to four years. You will forfeit your office after conviction if you are a public official. Again, you pay a fine equal; to the amount of the bribe if the value of the bribe is less than $2000.
The legal defenses a defense attorney may use to fight against your charges include lack of intent to commit a crime, you were intoxicated, false accusation, and you were entrapped by law enforcement officers.
Embezzlement is the misappropriation of property or funds by someone in a trusted position. Again, embezzlement includes misuse of private funds. An example of embezzlement is when an accountant funnels company money to their bank account. The penalties for embezzlement in California include ten years imprisonment and fines equal to the embezzled property. The best defenses for winning an embezzlement case include lack of intent to commit a crime, you were under entrapment, and police entrapment.
You commit fraud when you misrepresent facts to gain favor in return. The deceit should be intentional. To face conviction for the crime, the prosecutor should prove:
- You had the intent of making false statements.
- You prepared a statement of facts, knowing they were wrong.
- The victim relied on the information to be genuine.
Forgery involves making, altering, or using falsified documents like checks to defraud the recipient. The crime also includes the perpetrator creating a signatory which is not their own and then using it to defraud others—for example, signing a contract in another person's name intending to receive financial benefits.
The crime may be charged as a wobble meaning it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the magnitude of the offense. If your case is charged as a misdemeanor, you may face imprisonment for up to one year in jail and pay restitution felony. The penalties include three years imprisonment in jail, restitution, and court fines. When the crime is charged as a felony, Possible defenses you may use to fight the charges include lack of intent to defraud, you had consent, false accusations, and you were mentally incapacitated.
Penalties For Misappropriation of Public Funds
Penalties are the punishment you receive for breaking the law. The penalties differ depending on the severity of the offense committed. Under California penal code 424, misappropriation of public funds is punishable. The penalties you may receive for the crime include:
- You may face imprisonment in prison for four years.
- A fine of up to USD 100000.
However, the penalties may vary when you have a prior criminal record. Again, after facing conviction for misappropriation of public funds, you will have limitations in holding public office in California.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
The crime of misappropriation of public funds in California is considered severe. It carries heavy fines alongside long-term jails. The process for prosecuting the crime is usually frustrating. That's why you need to work with a criminal defense attorney to help you fight the charges.
At Darwish Law, we strive to keep our clients updated throughout the legal process. We represent our clients at the court proceedings to ensure we maximize the winning probability of your case. So, when the law enforcement officers arrest you in Santa Ana, CA, over a suspicious misappropriation of public funds, you need to contact our attorneys. Contact us at 714-887-4810, and we will work on your case right away.