California Penal Code 503 – “Embezzlement” Laws
Embezzlement is a type of white-collar crime that is described under California Penal Code 503 PC. It occurs when someone steals or misappropriates funds that were placed in their trust by someone else such as an employer or organization. The offense can be charged as a felony if the value of the embezzled property is greater than $950. Otherwise, it is only classified as a misdemeanor.
Examples of Embezzlement
Embezzlement can take place in a variety of circumstances.
- A bank teller may have legal access to client money and be trusted with handling transactions involving that money. However, if the teller takes or uses some (or all) of the money for their own purposes, it is embezzlement.
- Companies or family members caring for someone can also be guilty of embezzlement if they take or use some (or all) of the money from that relative’s account for their own benefit.
- Professionals like lawyers or board members can be charged with embezzlement when they steal funds belonging to their company through misrepresentation or misappropriation of company property.
In order to be convicted of embezzlement, you must have legally possessed the property or been given authority to access it. The punishment for embezzlement can be severely punished under California law. Thus, you need the guidance of an experienced attorney from Tabibnia Law Firm.
More details about California’s “Embezzlement” law are in the following blog. Let’s begin.
How Does California Law Define Embezzlement?
A person commits the crime of theft by unlawfully taking property that has been entrusted to him. To be convicted, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant took the property without permission and that he knew at the time that the property belonged to someone else. Here are the following four factors that a prosecutor needs to prove in court:
- Owners entrusted their properties to defendants
- He did so because he trusted the defendant, and
- The defendant converted or used that property fraudulently for his own gain.
- His intention was to deprive the owner of its use.
Note: A prosecutor does not have to prove that the owner of the property asked the embezzler to return his or her property. This “asking” is not an element of the crime.
Questions often arise under this statute about the meaning of:
- Relationship of trust,
- Fraudulent use, and
- Intent to deprive.
Let’s take a look at the following in detail:
Relationship of trust
An embezzlement conviction requires evidence of trust between the property owner and the defendant. Owners of properties and defendants have a relationship of trust when:
- The defendant is the owner’s employee,
- An owner gives temporary possession of his property to the defendant (e.g., a valet is given a car), and
- Defendants manage the money or property of owners.
Note: A relationship of trust requires concrete evidence of trust or confidence between employer and employee. But, an embezzlement charge cannot be justified based on the accused’s employment status alone.
- When someone acts fraudulently under this statute, they either:
- Exploit another by taking advantage of them
- Results in the loss to that person by breaching a duty, trust, or conﬁdence.
Intent to Deprive
A defendant can only be guilty of embezzling if he intends to deprive a property owner of his property or its use. Even a temporary intention to deprive an owner is enough for guilt. The intent to deprive does not have to be permanent, and an intent to return the property at the time of taking is not a defense. The only exception is if the defendant restored the property before being charged.
What is The Punishment For Embezzlement in California?
Embezzlement in California can be charged as either grand theft (Penal Code 487 Penal Code) or petty theft (Penal Code 488 Penal Code), depending on the value and type of property that is stolen or misappropriated.
The offense will be charged as grand theft if it involved property that was either:
- Worth more than $950,
- An automobile, or
- A firearm.
If you are caught embezzling, the punishment depends on the value of what was stolen. If charged with grand theft, it is a wobbler and can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. As a misdemeanor, you can be imprisoned in county jail for up to one year.
On the other hand, if a defendant is guilty of embezzling and the value of the property is worth $950 or less, you will be charged with petty theft which is a misdemeanor offense punishable by custody in county jail for up to six months.
What is the Difference Between Embezzlement and Grand Theft?
Embezzlement is stealing money or property that was entrusted to the person, while grand theft is stealing money or property that was not entrusted to the person.
The main difference between the two crimes is the value of the stolen property: grand theft refers to taking property valued at more than $950. Otherwise, stolen items would be prosecuted as petty theft. And, embezzlement can be charged with any dollar amount. Despite this definitional difference between these (grand theft, petty theft, and embezzlement), all offenses will carry identical penalties in California.
What Are The Related California Crimes For Embezzlement?
Penal Code 504 Penal Code – Embezzlement By A Public Officer
According to California Penal Code 504 Penal Code, a public officer is guilty of embezzlement if he or she:
- Use of public property or funds in a fraudulent manner
- Use of them is inconsistent with his official authority.
Under Penal Code 503, this crime is punished in the same way as ordinary embezzlement.
Penal Code 424 Penal Code – Misappropriation Of Public Funds
Under Penal Code 424 Penal Code, misappropriating public funds constitutes a crime when:
- Fraudulent use of public funds is committed by the defendant, and
- Those funds were under his responsibility.
Similar to embezzlement, this crime involves the theft of money. It is important to note that embezzlement refers more to private funds, while this offense involves misusing public funds.
Penal Code 459 Penal Code – Burglary
As per Penal Code 459 Penal Code, a person is responsible for burglary when he enters any residential or commercial building or room with the intent to commit a felony or theft once inside.
Note: A person could be guilty of this crime if he entered a building intending to commit embezzlement. This is because the act would be classified as a theft crime.
Penal Code 470 Penal Code – Forgery
Forgery is a crime in California under Penal Code 470 Penal Code. It occurs when a person undertakes any of the following:
- Signs someone else’s name,
- Fakes a seal or another person’s writing,
- Falsify or alter any legal document, an
- A false document relating to money, finances, or property that is faked, altered, or presented as genuine.
Forgery requires fraudulent behavior, just as embezzlement, for an accused to be found guilty.
Penal Code 484 Penal Code – Petty Theft
One of the most frequent theft offenses for which prosecutors file charges is petty theft. Even though the vast majority of these cases include shoplifting, petty theft under California Penal Code Sections 484(a) and 488 Penal Code can include any theft crime that fits the following requirements:
- The stolen property’s value is $950 or less.
- The property wasn’t directly taken from another person (such as a robbery or mugging offense)
- The item stolen was not a gun or an automobile.
Penal Code 487 Penal Code – Grand Theft
Grand theft charges are brought under California Penal Code Section 487 Penal Code and pertain to stealing offenses that would not be considered petty theft. The grand theft charges apply when:
- The theft involves a loss in excess of $950,
- The item stolen is a car or a gun, and
- The item stolen was physically and directly taken off of a person.
Penal Code 496 Penal Code – Receiving Stolen Property
Receiving stolen property is a crime that is defined by Penal Code 496 Penal Code as purchasing, accepting, hiding, selling, or withholding anything that you know was obtained by theft or extortion. The crime has a maximum 3-year prison sentence and may be tried as a misdemeanor or felony.
How Can I Fight For Penal Code 503 Embezzlement Charges?
Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys can employ a range of legal tactics to secure the best result if you are facing Penal Code 503 embezzlement allegations. Every case will contain particular facts and evidence that call for a detailed examination of the particulars. The following are the most frequent legal defenses, though:
Lack of Intent
In some circumstances, criminal defense lawyers might prove that you didn’t express a desire to deprive the owner of their property or use it for your own gain. Particularly in an embezzlement case, it can be challenging to demonstrate criminal intent.
Good Faith Belief
Even if your initial assumption turned out to be incorrect, our criminal attorneys may be able to prove that you acted in good faith believing you had the owner’s permission to use their property in certain embezzlement situations. In other words, you had a reasonable belief that you were entitled to the property. Of course, you wouldn’t have tried to hide your behavior for this defense to be true.
We can also contend that the evidence used to support the embezzlement charges is falsified. For instance, it’s possible that the purported victim made up the accusation against you out of anger, revenge, or jealousy. Perhaps, the victim simply made a mistake about the property being taken or who took it. Naturally, we want to raise some uncertainty. If successful, you stand a good chance of getting a good result.
Call our knowledgeable group of Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers for a free first consultation if you are the subject of a criminal investigation or have already been charged with violating California Penal Code 503 Penal Code embezzlement. Our law company Tabibnia Law Firm has decades of expertise defending clients accused of white-collar crimes, such as embezzlement. Let us know how we can help you!