What Does the Prosecution Need to Prove in an Embezzlement Case?
Embezzlement is charged under California Penal Code Section 503. For the defendant to be convicted, the prosecution must demonstrate each element of the crime with evidence.
The elements of embezzlement are:
The owner entrusted his property to the defendant because he trusted the defendant.
Trust is one of the most slippery elements of embezzlement. It is often difficult to demonstrate because it cannot be determined solely from the general characteristics of the relationship. Rather, the court will look to more specific details to determine if there was a relationship of trust.
Examples of trust relationships include:
- Any relationship in which the defendant is given temporary possession of someone else’s property, such as a valet tasked with parking expensive vehicles at a fancy restaurant
- Any relationship in which the defendant is responsible for managing the victim’s money
The defendant fraudulently converted or used the property for his own benefit.
Fraud is another difficult element to prove. Generally speaking, fraud occurs when the defendant violates a confidence placed in him by the victim. It may also occur if the defendant takes undue advantage of the victim.
The defendant intended to deprive the owner of the property’s use.
Deprivation is defined extremely broadly in the embezzlement context. The deprivation does not have to be permanent or even for any significant period of time. The intent to deprive may be temporary and very brief.
Furthermore, the element may be present even if the defendant intended to return the property to the owner.
Felony vs. Misdemeanor Embezzlement
Embezzlement is a wobbler offense, meaning it could be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the nature of the crime.
Identifying misdemeanor vs. felony embezzlement is simple: If the property embezzled is valued over $950, then the crime is charged as a felony. If the value is $950 or less, then the crime is charged as a misdemeanor.
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How to Protect Your Rights If You’re Under Investigation for Embezzlement
If embezzlement is suspected, there will likely be an extensive investigation into the matter. Multiple parties will be interviewed during this investigation, including the suspect, witnesses, and the property owner.
If you’re the subject of an investigation, it’s important to have an experienced embezzlement defense attorney by your side from the very beginning. A defense lawyer can represent you during interactions with law enforcement to ensure you are not saying anything that could later be used against you.
Common Defenses to Embezzlement
There are many potential defenses to embezzlement charges, depending on the circumstances of the case. These include:
- The defendant thought they owned the property: The defense may argue that the defendant reasonably believed that they owned the property.
- Lack of intent: The defendant may be able to demonstrate that they did not intend to deprive the owner of the property.
- No fraud: The defendant may argue that they had the owner’s permission to use the property in the manner that they did.
An experienced embezzlement defense attorney will thoroughly review all the evidence and identify any weaknesses in the prosecution’s case. There will be many opportunities to push for charges to be reduced or dropped, so it is crucial that you work with a skilled defense attorney from the very beginning.
Penalties for an Embezzlement Conviction
- A felony embezzlement conviction can result in a maximum 3-year prison sentence.
- A conviction for misdemeanor embezzlement can result in a maximum jail sentence of 1 year.