Embezzlement can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. The difference has to do with the amount of money taken and the sophistication used to commit the embezzlement. California Penal Code 503 is the statute that describes the crime of embezzlement.
If someone is in a position of trust, as an employee, and they're embezzling thousands of dollars from their employer, then that person is likely to be charged with and convicted of a felony (CALCRIM 1806).
If, on the other hand, the embezzlement is a small amount of money and there is not much sophistication involved, the attorney for the offending party is going to have a much better argument that the person should get a misdemeanor charge.
There are also scenarios where the accused would plead to a felony but a certain period of time after they pay the money back, that person could get a misdemeanor instead and eventually get the case expunged or dismissed, in California.
Embezzlement cases are treated more seriously than an average theft case because, usually, the person doing the embezzlement in a position of trust and therefore, the prosecutors feel they've got to come down hard on that particular person.
Defenses for Felony Embezzlement Charges In California
There are a number of defenses when it comes to embezzlement. The typical defense is going to be that you either didn't steal the money or had authorization to take the money. Perhaps someone else took it. If they can't prove that you stole it, then the question becomes how much the loss is going to be.
These cases are fact-specific and center around what happened in that particular case, including what the evidence is that the prosecutors have and whether the police did a sloppy job investigating the case.
Your attorney can provide additional information to the prosecutors to attempt to defend the case or they can take the case to a jury trial and try to show a jury that you're innocent.
If you're being investigated for embezzlement, you don't want to go to law enforcement yourself. Then, they're going to arrest you and you're going to be prosecuted. A lot of big companies have their own internal investigative bodies.
They will try to speak to the employee first to find out if they can get their money back, find out the extent of the embezzlement, and find out if anyone else might be involved. Then, they'll turn you over to law enforcement. Talking to your employer, most of the time, is just going to end in you getting fired and then bringing law enforcement in, after you've confessed.
The best course of action, if you're being investigated by your company, is to get an attorney. Let the attorney know the truth and then your attorney can decide exactly how to deal with your company. Many times, people get blindsided by their company's investigative unit and they don't have time to go to an attorney.
They don't have time to think about it, so they end up saying something incriminating. Even if you've done that, you should get to an attorney, let the attorney know the circumstances, and let them know exactly what you said, because your company is probably going to go to the police.
Sometimes, I have been able to negotiate with companies and convince them not to go to the police but usually, they're going to want back whatever it is you stole in a timely fashion.
Penalties for Penal Code 503 Embezzlement
Many times, people who get prison time on embezzlement cases in California end up serving their time in county jail. In Los Angeles County, only certain crimes have been deemed crimes that they're going to actually send the person to prison for because of the overcrowded prison population in California.
Typically, if you get convicted of a felony for embezzlement, you could be facing time in county jail. They'll call it prison but then you'll actually serve that time in county jail.
I represent a lot of people at the federal level who have embezzled money from their company. If you get convicted at that level, you will serve 85% of whatever time you are sentenced to. It is much more serious. You're going to be ordered to pay back the money you embezzled through restitution.
Most of the time, in embezzlement cases, people are looking at a felony. However, often, the government is willing to give people a break, if it's a first offense, and not try to send them to prison. If you are being looked at for embezzlement, getting an attorney is crucial to avoid some of the damages and consequences that come with an embezzlement conviction.
Usually, the statute limitations on an embezzlement case is going to be three years. If the state prosecution doesn't file the charges against you within a year, however, the defense has an argument that they waited too long to file the case and interfered with the defense's ability to defend the case. If they wait for more than a year, usually, they're not going to file the case.
Should I Turn Myself In And Expect Leniency for Embezzlement?
If the police are actively looking for you and have a warrant out for your arrest, related to an embezzlement case, your best option is to meet with an attorney, get a game plan together, and then turn yourself in. Not dealing with it puts you at a disadvantage, once you're caught.
You and your attorney will turn you in with a plan in place. You will execute the plan and then, you're going to be in the most ideal position to get the best result from your criminal case.
Turning yourself in shows that you're ready willing and able to deal with whatever it is you're being accused of. It shows good faith on your part and it starts you and your attorney off on a positive foot.
Sometimes, you might turn yourself in but you're innocent in the case. The longer you stay out there knowing there's a warrant for your arrest, the more difficult it's going to be to convince a potential jury that you're innocent.
They are going to assume that you not turning yourself in for your embezzlement warrant is consciousness of guilt. You knew that you were going to be prosecuted, you were afraid to be prosecuted because you're guilty, and that is why you didn't turn yourself in.
On the flip side, the defense can argue, if you turned yourself in, that you didn't do anything wrong and that once you found out there was a warrant, you wanted to get your side of the story out to show that you're innocent.
Aggravating Factors for PC 503 Embezzlement Charges
Some of the biggest aggravating factors for embezzlement have to do with the amount of the loss. If you've taken hundreds of thousands of dollars, you've probably affected a number of people. You've put a business in a difficult position, which be a very aggravating factor because you're in a position of trust.
You steal from the company and now that company either can't get other business or just loses thousands of dollars. The number one aggravating factor in an embezzlement case is the amount of money that you took.
Another aggravating factor is the level of sophistication involved in the embezzlement. If you're using computers to commit the embezzlement or if your scam is something that is very difficult to cover for your employer, then that would be an aggravating factor.
At the federal level, they will add extra points and extra levels on your sentence. Another factor that is aggravating in embezzlement cases is if you have a particularly vulnerable victim, like an elderly client. Your best bet, if you're looking to do damage control, is get to an attorney as quickly as possible.
Consent as a Defense in PC 503 Embezzlement Cases
If your employer lost money, then they are going to be looking to blame someone for losing that money. Then, the question becomes who got the money and what did you have to do with that person getting the money.
If your employer told you to move the money, were they telling you to do it in an illegal manner? Was it a lawful moving of the money? What is it that you're being accused of doing? No one is going to get charged and convicted of embezzlement, if they didn't do anything wrong. Prosecutors and judges are not going to allow someone to be convicted who didn't have criminal intent.
Sometimes, employers take advantage of their employees and try to use their employees as scapegoats. If that is your situation, come and sit down with me. You need a sophisticated advocate on your side to be able to turn the tables on your employer and prove that you're innocent.
Hedding Law Firm is a criminal defense law firm located in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles County at 16000 Ventura Blvd #1208 Encino, CA 91436. We are also located at 633 West Fifth Street Los Angeles, CA 90071. Contact us for a free case evaluation at (213) 542-0979.