California Penal Code 503 PC describes embezzlement as unlawfully taking money or property entrusted to you to deprive the owner of using it.
An embezzlement is a form of theft but unique because it usually involves an employee of a company who is trusted and has access to the money or property, which is why it is commonly known as “employee theft.”
If the value of the stolen property or money exceeds $950, then embezzlement can be filed as a felony, but any amount under $950 will be filed as a misdemeanor.
Embezzlement is a non-violent white-collar crime involving the keywords “fraud” and “intent.” Related crimes for PC 503 is Penal Code 504, PC embezzlement by a public official, and Penal Code 424, PC misappropriation of public funds.
To be convicted of embezzlement, the prosecutor has to prove all the “elements of the crime” under CALCRIM 1806 California Criminal Jury Instructions:
- The owner entrusted their property to the defendant because they trusted them;
- The defendant fraudulently used the property for their benefit, and
- The defendant had the intent to deprive the owner of its use.
Further, the prosecutor must prove a “relationship of trust” between the owner and the defendant. Embezzlement occurs when the employee acts fraudulently by taking advantage of their position of trust, breaching a duty, and causing the owner some loss. Our California criminal defense lawyers will examine this law more closely below.
Does Embezzlement Normally Involve High-Level Employee Theft?
Yes. Some people who work at jobs and steal from their employers get charged with embezzlement. Usually, what I see happen is that the employer somehow finds out about it.
Maybe they do an audit. Perhaps they have video cameras. Maybe some employee tells the boss or manager whoever it is that's embezzling money. It's usually a higher-level employee that's involved.
The prosecutors and judges treat these cases very seriously. The reasoning is that the person embezzling is typically sitting in a position of trust at the job. Their employer trusts them to do their job, promote and help their business, and trust them to not steal money from them.
How Can You Defend Against Embezzlement Allegations?
I have some ideas when defending people charged with embezzlement for the past 30 years: to understand what the judges and prosecutors are trying to do in these cases.
They see their jobs as trying, if possible, to make the employer whole, meaning, can they put the employer back in the position they were before you embezzled money or took goods, whatever the case may be.
So, depending on what you took, if you can pay the money back or make some arrangement to pay the money back, that certainly would be a good idea and assist your defense attorney in resolving the case. That would give you some leverage if you could pay the money back.
What is Prefiling Intervention?
I've also been able to resolve embezzlement cases prefiling. Sometimes somebody can be brought into HR or the manager's office and be accused of stealing. A lot of times:
- they'll show you evidence of the stealing,
- make you sign a confession,
- make you agree to a bunch of stuff.
I've had people call me, and we've been able to pre-file before a criminal case is filed – working out a payment plan and structuring things up to avoid a criminal filing.
But you must realize you can't stop your employer from going to the police. If they want to go to the police, they can go to the police and try to collect their money back. They can try to do both. That's where a lot of clients get confused. They can't go to the police if I pay the money back. No, they can go to the police if they want to, so that's a dicey thing.
That's why you hire a lawyer to deal with it to make sure you make all the best moves to put yourself in the best position to potentially not get a criminal filing.
Even if they were going to file a case, if you were able to work out something related to paying the restitution back – the money back – the goods – whatever it is you're being accused of taking – that's going to help you in the criminal case.
So, that's one of the most important ideas that I would use in embezzlement cases, and that is, if they can prove the case against you, then you want to do everything you can to mitigate your damages, and that starts with trying to make the victim in the case whole.
Can The Prosecutor Prove You Committed Embezzlement?
Then at the other end of the spectrum, as far as ideas go, and that relates to whether or not they can prove the case against you, and that's something that's going to have to be looked at by a seasoned criminal defense attorney.
What I have you do is come into my office. We go over everything. I ask you to be honest and tell me the truth about what happened. The reason for that is that I don't want to be surprised later, and if I'm not working with all of the facts, then I will not be able to come up with a good solution for you.
We'll come up with a solution, but if I'm missing essential pieces of the puzzle you don't want to tell me because it makes you look guilty, that won't help you.
Anything said between an attorney and a client is privileged information. The attorney can't divulge it to anybody unless the client consents it, and it makes sense to divulge it because you're trying to work things out with the other side.
Can You Avoid Jail Time?
Possibly. Other angles can be taken in an embezzlement case. We can try to get a different charge if the embezzlement is not too hefty. There are also ways of avoiding jail time and prison time.
A lot of times, what I see prosecutors doing if you've taken a bunch of money and you can't pay the money back.
Then, a lot of them take the position that, okay, if you're not going to pay the money back, we're going to make it, so you're ordered to pay the money back anyway, and we're going to take it out of your hide.
We'll just put you in jail for some time to punish you for taking the money in the first place, and then you'll still get ordered to pay it back anyway.
So, your best first step is to pick up the phone. Make the call. Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding. Let me put my 30 years of experience to work for you. The Hedding Law Firm is located in Los Angeles, California. We provide a free case review by phone or use the contact form.