Embezzlement is a white-collar offense that involves the conversion of property or money for personal use by a trusted person. Usually, an embezzler holds a position of authority or has easy access to cash. Despite the most sophisticated schemes, an embezzler will be caught. However, sometimes the police make a mistake, and innocent persons' livelihood, future, and lives are affected by the charge. If you are charged with violating PC 503, don't say anything about the case until you speak with a defense attorney. At the Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we have many years of experience protecting our clients' rights and freedom.
Definition of the Offense
Embezzlement is a theft crime and white-collar offense that involves an individual's illegal taking of property, which another person has entrusted them. Although the crime is also known as employee theft, per Penal Code Section 503 PC, it can occur whenever the unlawful taking of entrusted assets occurs.
Examples of embezzlement include:
- A cashier pocketing money from their drawer
- Investors taking their clients' money to clear their mortgage
- A sports club's treasurer who took one thousand dollars from the bank account of the club
To be convicted of PC 503, the prosecutor must establish the elements of the crime below:
- A property owner entrusted their property to you,
- The property owner acted so because they trusted you,
- You used or fraudulently converted the asset for your benefit, and
- You intended/purposed to deprive the property owner of the property use.
Please note, the prosecution team doesn't have to establish the property owner requested you to return their asset. The asking is not a fact of the offense.
Understanding Elements of the Offense
Discussed below are questions that arise under the crime in question:
Relationship of Trust
To be convicted of PC 503, the prosecutor should prove the trust between the defendant and the property owner.
Perfect instances where a relationship of trust between an individual and the property owner exists include:
- When the accused is an employee to the asset owner
- When the property owner grants the accused possession of their asset for a while
- When the accused has the responsibility of managing property or money that belongs to somebody else
As far as an employee-employer relationship is concerned, the relationship of trust needs robust proof of confidence or trust. That means the fact that the defendant is a worker is not adequate to prove the embezzlement charges.
For instance, you aren't automatically in a relationship of trust with a boss with a restaurant if you serve food. Nevertheless, there exists a relationship of trust should you be given the responsibility of depositing the enterprise's money in a bank account.
You behave fraudulently when you either:
- Cause loss to somebody else by breaching a confidence, trust, or duty, or
- Take unnecessary advantage of somebody else
Intent to Deprive/Conversion
You could only be convicted of a violation of PC 503 if you plan to rob the owner of their asset or its use. The intention doesn't have to be for good; even a temporary intent is adequate for a conviction.
Moreover, the intent to return the asset when taking it is not a valid legal defense to the offense. The only exception is if you returned it before you were charged.
Agent of the Property Owner
A defendant could also be found guilty of PC 503 if the individual who gave the accused the asset was the owner's agent. An agent is a person to whom the owner has given partial or complete control and authority over the property.
Therefore, if an employee or supervisor gives you an asset to keep or use on the employer's behalf, you could be found guilty if you take the asset and use it for your purposes.
Penalties and Consequences of Violating California Penal Code Section 503 PC
PC 503 in Orange County is punished as either petty theft or grand theft. It depends on the kind and worth of the asset borrowed or stolen.
Embezzlement of a property whose worth is less than nine hundred and fifty dollars is a California misdemeanor. It carries a maximum of six months in jail and one thousand dollars in fines.
If the asset's value is fifty dollars or less, the prosecution team may elect to file the crime as an infraction. It is punished by a maximum fine of two hundred and fifty dollars. An infraction is not available to a defendant with a previous theft or theft-related conviction.
An Asset Whose Value Exceed Nine Hundred and Fifty Dollars
Embezzlement of services, money, or property whose value is above nine hundred and fifty dollars is charged as grand theft.
It's a wobbler. A wobbler is an offense that can be charged either as a California felony or a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor carries up to a year in jail. On the other hand, a felony charge can subject you to a three-year jail sentence.
Embezzlement of Public Money
It is a California felony. If convicted, you risk facing increased penalties and fines, including:
- Repaying the stolen money or property
- Two (2), or four (4) years in state prison
- Permanently become ineligible for local or state government positions
What Happens if There are Several Embezzlement Instances
- embezzled property or money several times,
- within a twelve-month duration with every instance less than nine hundred dollars,
- but the amount is more significant than nine hundred and fifty thousand dollars if put together,
- you will be charged with grand theft.
It is a wobbler.
What are the Aggravating Factors?
On top of the consequences applicable to the asset embezzled kind and worth, the court could add more sentence time, fines, or convictions for offenses that involve the following aggravating factors.
Aggravated White Collar Crime Enhancement
PC 503 offers for enhancement if you embezzle valuable assets or vast sums of money. The increment is for extra prison time, which is served sequentially. It offers as below:
- A year for an asset whose worth is at least sixty-five thousand dollars
- Two (2) years for an asset valued above two hundred thousand dollars
- Three (3) years for assets with a value greater than one million and three hundred thousand dollars
- Four (4) years for assets whose value is above three million and two hundred thousand dollars
Moreover, if found guilty in the same trial of at least two felonies involving embezzlement or fraud, which together led to somebody else losing at least one hundred thousand dollars, you risk facing a white-collar crime enhancement for punishment purposes. It enhances five (5) years in prison to your sentence alongside prison time, probation, and fines attracted by the felony conviction.
Dependent or Elder People
An individual taking care of a dependent or an aged person is in a position of trust. It includes a person taking care of a senior relative, an individual living in an assisted living facility, or a person living with disabilities.
The laws consider embezzlement for a dependent or elder person an aggravating factor for incarceration purposes and impose enhanced penalties.
A PC 503 conviction might have adverse consequences on your gun rights.
Per California laws, a convicted felon is prohibited from possessing or acquiring a firearm. In other words, if prosecuted and convicted of a violation of PC 503 as a felony grand theft, you lose your rights to possess and own a firearm.
Does an Embezzlement Conviction Have Immigration Consequences?
Under Penal Code Section 503, a conviction could have immigration consequences. It can also impact your ability to apply for and acquire naturalization.
Per U.S. immigration laws, some convictions could result in an immigrant being marked inadmissible or deported. Aggravated felonies are one of these crimes.
That means if you:
- are prosecuted with a felony grand theft embezzlement, and
- the case circumstances prove that the California felony is an aggravated felony,
- you might face negative immigration consequences.
How to Fight a Penal Code Section 503 PC Conviction
Embezzlement charges are different from a theft charge. While the allegation could tarnish your reputation, it can be hard to regain trust. Moreover, it might be hard to secure employment or regain the ability to make a living following a conviction.
Your experienced criminal defense lawyer has the resources and skills required to fight the charges. They could use the following legal defenses:
No Fraudulent Use
For you to be found guilty of embezzlement in California, you should fraudulently use money or property. That means it's a valid legal defense if you did not:
- Lead to losses to an individual by breaching confidence or a duty, or
- Take undue advantage of somebody else.
You Did Not Intent to Deprive
You can only be convicted of PC 503 if you behaved with the intent to deprive the asset owner of their asset or its use. As a result, it is a legal defense for you to prove that you didn't have the intent. For instance, you can claim that you took the money or property as a joke.
Good Faith Belief in the Entitlement to Asset
A defendant is innocent if he behaved with a good faith belief that they had an entitlement to the property or money. The court determines if the belief was warranted by reviewing the case circumstances.
You can have a belief in good faith even when the belief is unreasonable or mistaken.
If you believed that the money or property belonged to you, then you should be exonerated. You should establish:
- You didn't use surreptitious methods to acquire the money but acted so publicly or openly.
- You didn't obtain the asset because of debts the property owner owed you.
Most of the federal embezzlement charges are dropped because of sufficient evidence. What constitutes insufficiency as far as proof is concerned isn't objective. It could depend on the jury, judge, and the alleged offense committed.
For instance, if there has been a wrongful allegation, the attorney could present proof to the court that the accused did not embezzle the property. It happens regardless of whether the asset was embezzled or not. The lawyer should prove that their client did not break the embezzlement laws. They aren't required to negate the fact the violation of PC 503 took place.
Duress as a Legal Defense
If the defendant used violence or threats to force you to behave against your better judgment during the crime, the judge might not find you guilty. It is because common pressure doesn't result in duress.
However, if you embezzled because you wanted to foot bills and offer for your family, that does not create duress.
Disproving the Fiduciary Relationship
It might be challenging, but your defense lawyer can prove no fiduciary relationship of reliance exists between the plaintiff and you. Courts have ruled that debtor-creditor and employee-employer relationships aren't presumed to be fiduciary relationships with no other evidence of confidence or trust.
Expiration of the Statute of Limitations
The Golden State limits the prosecutor's period to bring an embezzlement charge (statute of limitations). Even when it's a case with persuasive proof, you could make a motion to have your case dismissed, claiming expiration of the statute of limitations.
If the embezzlement was concealed, the duration it was hidden doesn't count toward the statute of limitations. The time frame begins immediately after the crime has been discovered. If you tried to conceal the embezzlement, it is concealment.
If the embezzlement is continuing, the timeframe starts following the last embezzlement-related action. If the crime is no longer concealed but is undiscovered, the timeframe starts when the embezzlement is discovered.
Typically, the statute of limitations to a charge involving private funds and property is four years. The duration starts either when the offense is completed or discovered, whichever is later. There is no statute of limitations as far as embezzlement of public funds is concerned. A lawsuit could commerce at any time.
Related Offenses to Embezzlement Charges
Discussed below are offenses that are charged alongside or in place of embezzlement:
Under PC 459, an individual commits the crime when they enter a commercial or residential building and acts to engage in theft or a felony after they are inside.
The defendant would violate burglary law if they entered the room intending to engage in embezzlement. It is a theft offense.
The law divides burglary into first-degree and second-degree. First-degree entails residential burglary while second-degree is burglary for other structures.
Residential burglary is a felony that is punishable by a maximum of six years. Commercial burglary is a wobbler that could be prosecuted as either:
- A misdemeanor with a maximum one year in jail,
- A felony that is punishable by sixteen months, two years, or three years in jail
Penal Code Section 504 PC (Misappropriation/Embezzlement by a Public Officer)
PC 504 makes it a crime for a public officer guilty of embezzlement if they:
- Fraudulently use any public funds or property, and
- Use them in a manner, not in line with their official authority.
The crime carries the same penalties as embezzlement per Penal Code Section 503 PC.
Penal Code Section 424 PC (Misappropriation of Public Funds)
According to PC 424, it is an offense when:
- You misuse public funds, and
- You were responsible for the funds.
The offense is identical to embezzlement. However, it applies to the misuse of public money.
It is charged as a felony that carries the following penalties:
- A maximum fine of ten thousand dollars
- Four years in California state prison
Forgery (Penal Code Section 470)
Under PC 470, forgery occurs when you engage in either of the below:
- Sign another person's name
- Fake another person's handwriting or seal
- Falsify or change a legal document
- Alter, fake, or submit as genuine a fake document concerning property, finances, or money.
It is a wobbler. A misdemeanor carries a year in county jail while a felony attracts three years in jail.
Expungement for Embezzlement Charges
Under California Penal Code Section 1203.4 PC, many felony and misdemeanor convictions can be erased.
Expungement is a process where your criminal record is sealed or deleted from the general public. That means anyone who conducts a criminal background check on you will not see the conviction.
However, court files and the criminal record are kept on the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other law enforcement agency databases and could be used to:
- Be considered when applying for licensing, public employment, public licensing, military or a law enforcer job, or
- Increase the sentence if you commit another California felony.
To be eligible for expungement, the defendant shouldn't have served time in prison. If they did, they have to look for another post-conviction relief.
Nevertheless, if found guilty of a felony as a California wobbler, the defendant could petition the judge to reduce the charge to a California misdemeanor before expunging it.
If you didn't serve time in prison, you could petition for expungement as long as you satisfy the requirements below:
- You completed your probation conditions.
- You don't have any pending criminal charges.
- You haven't committed another felony.
If the judge grants the expungement, the record erasing will have the effects below:
- You can claim under oath in court proceedings or even on a lawful document that you've never been sentenced for a felony- unless you're charged with a subsequent California felony crime or in search of public employment.
- You could claim on a rental or employment application that you do not have any conviction.
- However, you have to reveal the conviction when applying for a work license with the State Lottery Commission or run for public office.
- You could apply for a law enforcer job or to the military. However, it would help if you revealed your conviction even though it isn't a disqualifying factor unless your conviction was a California felony.
- You could apply for state licenses like a contractor's or real estate license.
- It could have positive immigration consequences if you're an immigrant who is looking for permanent residency.
You could apply for a criminal record erasing immediately your probation elapses. If there was no probation imposed, you should wait a year from the conviction's date before applying.
Civil Remedies for Embezzlement Victims
An embezzlement victim could also bring a civil lawsuit against the defendant. Depending on your case circumstances, possible claims could include conversion, unjust enrichment, and contract breach.
Many civil cases are resolved through negotiations. However, if the victim wins a trial, the judge could order the accused to pay the restitution. Moreover, the judge can set up a constructive trust as a way to refund the funds.
A civil lawsuit could be pointless. If you get convicted, the judge might order that you pay restitution.
Frequently Asked Questions on Embezzlement
The legal team at Orange County Criminal Lawyer has prepared a list of common questions they have answered concerning embezzlement laws.
1. Can Your Embezzlement Charge be Reduced?
It is possible. If the prosecutor can't establish that the worth of the asset embezzled was above nine hundred and fifty dollars, a grand theft embezzlement charge could be reduced to petty theft. If you don't have any other theft-related crime on your criminal record and the asset embezzled was less than fifty dollars, the charge could be reduced to an infraction.
2. How is the Value of the Embezzled Money or Asset Determined?
The current market value determines the value of the embezzled property at the time of the crime instead of its buying price. Typically, while property like antiques and paintings appreciate, motor vehicles depreciate. More often than not, the plaintiff will overestimate the asset's worth, or law enforcers will assign a random figure. As a result, it is essential to consult with a seasoned criminal defense lawyer to determine the correct value.
3. Nothing Has Been Charged Yet, But You Have a Feeling Either Your Boss or a Law Enforcer Could Call You. Should You Contact a Lawyer Then?
In most embezzlement cases, the accused senses that their boss or police could get involved before they do. It begins with a message or email from work politely indicating a discrepancy or requesting receipts from items charged on the company card. Every so often, the manager or supervisor will call and ask the defendant to attend a meeting to discuss in person. Sometimes, the meeting turns to be a discussion with the firm's attorney.
You could be faced with the choice of saying something or losing employment. Your defense attorney should advise you not to discuss anything related to the allegations. You are entitled to not talk with any person about the accusation. Anything you say or do could be used against you in a court of law.
It is also naïve to think that your company won't call law enforcers.
Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If you are charged with embezzlement, you require an experienced criminal attorney to build the legal defense. It is a white-collar offense that carries severe penalties. A conviction can result in steep fines and incarceration. Although you might feel helpless, you don't have to go through the devastating times alone. The legal team at the Orange County Criminal Lawyer is experienced and can develop a defense strategy tailored to meet your case circumstances. Call us today at 714-262-4833 for a case review.