What Constitutes Felony Embezzlement in California?

In California, embezzlement is the fraudulent misuse of assets by an individual to whom it has been entrusted. Misusing assets at or below $950 is a misdemeanor; misusing goods or money over that amount is a felony. Unlike theft of goods or money from persons without any financial relationship between them, embezzlements involve two parties bound together through a fiduciary relationship.

Because embezzling closely relates to theft and larceny, we will discuss the distinctions and what may constitute charging a person with felonious embezzlement in California.

Theft, Fraud, Embezzlement, or Larceny?

Much of California’s Penal Code is fungible. Theft, larceny, fraud, and other interchangeable terms essentially mean one’s money or property has been taken without consent. Depending on in which state the crime happened, they could all be misdemeanors or felonies.

With embezzlement, assets are taken normally in a corporate setting. It might involve transferring funds from a company account to a personal account without authorization, or taking money from a trust account before due time. California treats this charge seriously, especially since the amounts taken normally reach into the millions.

To prove property or money was embezzled, prosecutors must prove that:

  • A reliance, or fiduciary relationship, exists between both parties;
  • Money or property was acquired through the relationship, and by no other means;
  • Ownership of property must have been transferred to someone else, or controlled by the defendant;
  • The defendant acted willfully and intentionally.

To prove Federal embezzlement, the aforementioned must have happened across state lines, on government property or with government funds.

Punishment for Embezzlement in California

Misdemeanor embezzlement charges in California may result in one year in jail, up to $1,000 fine, and restitution in the amount taken. If escalated to felony charges, penalties will range from restitution, jail time, and probation to extended jail time.

If state funds were used to commit the crime, state jail and the inability to hold a public office are possible. Federal charges could net persons charged with embezzlement 20 years per count.

Potential Defenses

Common elements of embezzlement leave plenty of room to debate whether an individual actually committed the crime. Some common defenses that may fend off these charges include:

  • Property or money had no demand for return. Many times people will simply request assets get returned upon discovering them missing. When an individual or company makes no demand for their return, it is not unreasonable to assume they are uninterested in regaining control of goods.
  • Authority claim. If defendant can show proof they were given authority to take control of assets and use them as they wished, embezzlement would be off the table.
  • Claim of good faith. Although much harder to prove, defendant may be able to sidestep charges if a good faith belief existed that title to goods could be transferred to them.

California’s complex Penal Code leaves much to question when persons are charged with financial crimes like embezzlement. It is important to locate an attorney who specializes in this area of law to help relieve you of potential jail sentences unjustified by virtue of charges imposed.

Need to discuss your case with expert trial lawyer James E. Blatt? Contact us today!