Contact Us for a Free Consultation (213) 542-0979


Penal Code 503 PC - Embezzlement Laws in California

California Penal Code 503 PC defines embezzlement as the fraudulent appropriation of property by someone to whom it has been entrusted.

Embezzlement Laws in California – Penal Code 503 PC

Embezzlement is different from a traditional theft offense because the property taken had been entrusted to the alleged perpetrator by the owner. To be convicted of PC 503 embezzlement, it must be proven that you possessed the property or were given permission to access it.

PC 503 says, “Embezzlement is the fraudulent appropriation of property by a person to whom it has been entrusted.”

Embezzlement typically involves employee theft. For example, when an employer permits an employee to hold or manage their property or money, they violate the trust by taking the property for their benefit.

Embezzlement is a white-collar crime that could become a complex Ponzi scheme designed to defraud victims of their money. A famous case of embezzlement is that of Bernie Madoff, a stock broker convicted of embezzling billions from investors.

Simply put, an embezzlement is a fraudulent act when somebody, usually an employee, who was trusted takes advantage of the person who trusted them, resulting in a loss. Let's review this state law further below.

Overview of PC 503

In embezzlement cases, the prosecutor must prove there was a “relationship of trust” between the owner and the defendant.

Embezzlement in California

The fraudthat Penal Code 503 requires as an element of the crime is in the defendant's misappropriating the property when the owner reasonably assumed they were a trustworthy custodian.

Embezzlement is often associated with professionals, such as bookkeepers and accountants, to whom they were entrusted. To convict someone of PC 503 embezzlement, the prosecutor has to prove all the factors listed under CALCRIM 1806 California Criminal Jury Instructions, including the following:

  • The owner entrusted their property to the defendant;
  • The owner did so because they trusted them;
  • The defendant fraudulently used the property for their benefit;
  • The defendant had the intent to deprive the owner of its use.

What Are the Different Types of Embezzlement?

There are several Penal Codes in California defining forms of embezzlement, such as the following:

  • Penal Code 504 PC – embezzlement by a public official;
  • Penal Code 504a PC – embezzlement of leased property;
  • Penal Code 505 PC – embezzlement of transported property;
  • Penal Code 506 PC – embezzlement of funds by trustees;
  • Penal Code 506a PC – embezzlement of funds collected.

What Are the Related Crimes for PC 503?

Several California crimes are related to Penal Code 503 embezzlement, such as the following:

What Are the Penalties for PC 503?

Defendants charged with embezzlement can face either misdemeanor or felony punishments (wobbler), depending on the value of the embezzled property.

If the value was under $950, misdemeanor petty theft could be charged, which carries up to six months in the county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Suppose the value exceeds $950, felony grand theft, a sentence of up to three years in state prison, and payment of victim restitution. Penal Code 515 PC elevates the embezzlement crime to aggravated when the victim is elderly or dependent.

What Are the Defenses for PC 503?

If you or a loved one is charged with California Penal Code 503 PC embezzlement, you want to devise a resolution that makes sense. Sometimes it means fighting the case to jury trial and trying to beat the prosecutors; other times, it means trying to work out a resolution.

The first thing you want to do is get with an experienced attorney and decide whether you have a chance to beat the prosecutors or whether this is the type of case that needs to be negotiated. 

As discussed below, a California criminal defense lawyer can use several strategies to fight Penal Code 503 PC embezzlement charges.

Paying Back the Victim

The first thing you want to consider is if you want the best result; if they can prove the case against you, you need to figure out how to pay the victim back.  Sometimes the victim is a business or an employer, and you want to work out a resolution with them to pay them back. Indeed, you're in a better position if you can pay back all the money upfront. 

If you have to make payments on it, that's better than doing nothing because no matter how you slice it, you will be ordered to pay restitution if you get convicted of embezzlement. 

Whether you have it or not, they will put that albatross around your neck to deal with.  So, that's step number one in trying to get the best result – is figuring out if you can pay the victim back in the case because if you can, you're going to be in a much stronger position, and your attorney is going to be in a much stronger position. 

When I can go to the prosecutors and say, hey, look, your job is to make the victim whole.  We can pay all the money to the victim so they get their money back. 

That's huge.  Usually, if my client has no criminal record, I will usually keep them out of custody.  They have to look at the case, how much money was taken, and what type of sophistication was used, but giving the money back is one of the biggest things in these embezzlement cases.

Review of the Case Details

What you need to do is come in.  We'll sit down and review all the information, and then we'll design a plan for handling your embezzlement case.

Defenses for Penal Code 503 PC Embezzlement

Suppose there is evidence against you, and they can prove an embezzlement or a grand theft case against you. In that case, we will assemble a mitigation package and determine the best way to deal with the prosecutors to get you the best possible result.

Perhaps we can argue that there was no intent to deprive the owner. Maybe we can say you had a lawful right to possess the property. Perhaps we can argue that you did not cause any loss, breach a duty of confidence, or take advantage of the alleged victim. Most of the time, making the victim whole or paying them back is one of the crucial things that prosecutors see as their job. 

So, suppose we decide that we're going to mitigate the case and work out a resolution. In that case, our best bet is to see if we can either pay all of the restitution back or a portion of the restitution and make payments to get you the best possible result and keep you out of jail.

Mitigation Package

The prosecutors will next look at who you are, your criminal record, and what you did.  So, we have to put together what I would characterize as a mitigation package with the following:

  • character letters about you,
  • something from the church,
  • volunteer work,
  • family,
  • friends.

Whatever you can put together that shows the other side of you because they're looking at you as a bad person because you sat in a position of trust and you stole money, funds, goods, whatever the case may be. 

So, we need to try to turn the tide on that and figure out how to get you the best result to convince the prosecutors that you're a good person.  This is an aberration.  It won't happen again; you want to do your best to make the victim whole. 

Review of Discovery

So, that starts to give you a feeling when you're charged with embezzlement, the type of issue we will grapple with.  One of the big things that I like to do is get all of the discovery on the case:

  • police reports,
  • videos,
  • whatever evidence they've got and get the client a copy.

Let the client review it, and then we will discuss it. We're going to assess whether or not you have a defense to the case, and if you do, how can we use that defense to get a not-guilty verdict or try to get lesser charges that put you in a better position?

Negotiation with Prosecutor

If, on the flip side, you don't have a defense because they've got the goods on you and will be able to prove the case, then we'll look at it differently.  We're going to look at it more from the mitigation standpoint – what can we do, what kind of information can we get to convince that prosecutor not to send you to prison? 

No one wants to go to prison.  No one wants to go to county jail.  Nobody wants their freedom taken away.  So, these are the types of things we will look at for you. So, we will design a plan that considers you, your life, your family, and your career.

So, if you need the best, you're charged with embezzlement; you need some strategies that make sense for you, pick up the phone now.  Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding.  We offer a free case evaluation via phone or contact form. The Hedding Law Firm is located in Los Angeles, California.