A serious charge in California, embezzlement can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony. If you or a loved one has been charged with embezzlement in California, it is important that you understand the basic principles behind and possible punishments for the accusations.
California criminal code defines embezzlement as “the fraudulent appropriation of property by a person to whom it has been entrusted.” In other words, embezzlement involves money put in your trust legally that you steal illegally.
The money involved in California embezzlement cases can come from many different sources. It may originate in a cash register you are in charge of using or a large corporate account to which you have access. Because they are complicated, these cases often result in false accusations.
The penalties for embezzlement charges can vary greatly. Embezzlement can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the amount of money involved as well as your previous criminal record. If the embezzled money was the property of the state or county government, then the crime is always a felony.
What Does The Prosecutor Have To Prove To Show That I Am Guilty Of Embezzlement?
First, the prosecutor must show that you had a relationship of trust with the victim. Usually, this arises out of some relationship, employer-employee being the most common. However, it can also arise out of some other business or financial relationship, such as a partnership or other fiduciary obligation.
Second, the prosecution must show that the victim entrusted you with certain property. For example, if you worked for the victim, you were probably entrusted with money, supplies, or other assets or goods, as part of your job.
Third, the prosecutor must prove that you had the specific intent to deprive the victim of the property. Even if you ended up returning the property, the prosecutor will be able to prove this element if (s)he can show that you intended to keep the property (temporarily or permanently) at the time of the taking.
What are some of the acts that can result in embezzlement charges? Here are some examples:
- Writing checks from your employer to yourself or your acquaintance
- Taking any form of cash from your employer
- Using your employer’s property or permitting your employer’s property to be utilized for another purpose besides the one that he or she entrusted to you
- Hiding your employer’s assets with the intent of defrauding your employer
Are There Any Defenses To Embezzlement Charges?
To fight an embezzlement charge, a number of defense tactics can be used. As South Bay criminal defense lawyers, we will scrutinize all police reports, witness statements and discovery that the prosecutor has compiled in your case. Our team can contact the investigating officer and, if needed, employ the use of our defense investigator to interview witnesses.
We will look for any evidence negating the elements of the offense. One defense is that you did not take the property with the intent to misappropriate the funds, or that you had the authority (victim’s consent) to dispense with the funds or property in a way that gave the appearance of impropriety (where none existed). Our South Bay criminal defense lawyers can also argue that you did not have the intent to deprive the victim of the property and that you used it in an appropriate fashion.
We can argue that you believed you had a claim of right over the property. If, for example, your employer entrusted you with money that you believed you could use to cover certain work-related expenses, we can argue that you had a good faith belief that you were entitled to do this, even if your employer did not specifically authorize you to make such an expense.
If there is insufficient evidence to support the charge(s) against you, the entire case can be dismissed. As many embezzlement case charges are dropped due to insufficient evidence, this defense is definitely a valid one.
If you embezzled money from a company under duress — for instance, you believed that you would lose your job if you did not participate in the embezzlement activities — this defense is appropriate. If, however, the money was embezzled due to family hardships or to finance an addiction, this defense is not appropriate.
We have also been able to resolve many of these cases informally through what is known as a civil compromise. Our South Bay criminal defense lawyers will contact the victim and work out an arrangement whereby restitution can be paid directly to the victim to satisfy the claim. Through negotiation with the prosecutor, the embezzlement count can be dismissed in recognition that the victim was compensated.
Further, if you are guilty of embezzlement, there is also the possibility that a plea deal can be worked out. For instance, if you were to agree to give the money back to your employer or another person, the embezzlement charges against you could be reduced or even dropped altogether.
There are a host of issues we can evaluate based on our analysis of the police reports, witness statements and other evidence on file. Based on our findings, we may be able to successfully thwart a criminal prosecution in court or otherwise weaken the case against you.
If you or a loved one has been charged with embezzlement in California, you need to take the charges seriously. If you have been wrongly accused, a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney may be able to earn you an acquittal. If you are guilty, then you may be able to work out a plea deal that reduces or even eliminates the charges against you.
Call Ernenwein & Mathes, LLP, today for quality legal representation against frivolous California embezzlement charges. Our aggressive and experienced lawyers will work for you, helping to eliminate charges, reduce your sentence and advise you on how to clear your criminal record.