Embezzlement is a type of white-collar crime referring to a member, employee, or trustee of a company or organization stealing funds or property for personal use. This financial fraud crime carries severe long-term consequences if convicted, affecting an individual's career, reputation, and personal life. What distinguishes embezzlement from other theft crimes is that the money stolen is legitimately accessed or controlled by the individual doing the embezzling, usually because of the type of job they have.
Suppose you're under investigation or charged with embezzlement in California. In that case, the first thing you should do is consult an experienced embezzlement defense attorney to help you understand your rights and legal options for defense. The Aron Law Firm's California embezzlement defense lawyers are prepared to guide you through this challenging experience and help identify the best approach to resolving the charges against you.
What Constitutes Embezzlement under California Law?
Embezzlement is defined under California Penal Code Section 503 as:
“The fraudulent appropriation of property by a person to whom it has been entrusted.”
In California, embezzlement may be charged as a misdemeanor or felony offense, depending on the value of the property stolen. The prosecution will also consider a defendant's criminal record and the unique circumstances surrounding the crime when weighing whether to charge an individual with one of the following two classifications:
- Petty Theft Embezzlement: If you allegedly embezzle property valued at $950 or less, you will typically be charged with a misdemeanor petty theft embezzlement offense.
- Grand Theft Embezzlement: If the embezzled property is valued at more than $950 or involves a firearm or vehicle, the charge is generally a felony grand theft embezzlement. Although, in less serious cases, it may be treated as a misdemeanor.
Elements of Embezzlement Required for a Conviction
To garner a conviction of embezzlement, the prosecution must demonstrate the following facts beyond a reasonable doubt:
- An owner entrusted their property to the defendant
- The owner did so because they trusted the defendant
- The defendant fraudulently converted or used that property for their benefit, and
- They intended to deny the owner of its use
Note that the owner of the property does not need to request that the embezzler return their stolen property. The prosecution must prove only these four elements to obtain a conviction, which excludes this “asking.”
Penalties for an Embezzlement Conviction in California
Embezzlement is considered a “wobbler” in California, meaning that it may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony offense. A conviction may involve damaging consequences to your professional career, reputation, and freedom, and retaining a seasoned embezzlement defense lawyer to advocate for your best interests is vital.
The punishments for embezzlement in California are defined below:
- Petty theft embezzlement: A conviction for this misdemeanor offense is punishable by up to six months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.
- Misdemeanor grand theft embezzlement: If convicted, you may face penalties that include up to one year in jail and fines up to $1,000.
- Felony grand theft embezzlement: A conviction for this felony offense may result in up to three years in state prison and fines up to $10,000.
If you're convicted of embezzling funds in California, you may also be subject to counseling and restitution paid to the victims. The prosecutors in Santa Barbara and throughout California take a harsh stance against embezzlement charges. If you're suspected of committing this crime, do not delay partnering with a skilled embezzlement attorney to start building your defense.
Strategic Defense against Embezzlement Charges in California
Various strategies may be applied in your legal defense, whether you face a misdemeanor or felony charge for embezzlement. Some defenses include demonstrating that you:
- Did not fraudulently use the property or funds
- Believed that you had a right to the property or funds
- Had no intent to deprive the rightful owner of their property or funds
The most important step you may take is acting early to obtain the legal services of a skilled criminal defense lawyer. Get in touch with the Aron Law Firm to consult a knowledgeable embezzlement lawyer who may intervene in the initial stages and advocate on your behalf.
Consult Trusted California Embezzlement Defense Lawyers in Santa Barbara
Facing criminal charges for embezzlement may be a worrying experience; however, the California embezzlement defense attorneys at the Aron Law Firm have substantial experience in high-stakes litigation when everything is on the line.
Our criminal defense firm is led by former Deputy District Attorney William M. Aron, who puts years of insight and experience prosecuting hundreds of criminal cases to work in our clients' defense. We pride ourselves on taking a client-focused approach in all that we do, making the legal process as painless as possible while achieving the most optimal outcome possible. To connect with a seasoned California embezzlement defense lawyer at the Aron Law Firm, schedule a confidential consultation by calling (805) 618-1768 or completing a contact form.