You are probably frightened of what might happen to your reputation if you're under investigation for committing a California embezzlement crime. Even a guilt suspicion can negatively impact your career, freedom, social life, finances, and future. That is why you should not wait to fight back. As far as embezzlement is concerned, the prosecution team will be willing to spend months or even years collecting evidence and building a solid case. The earlier you hire a criminal defense lawyer, the increased possibility of having the charges reduced or dismissed altogether.
Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm has decades of experience taking criminal charges brought by overzealous prosecutors in Pasadena. Making statements such as declaring you are innocent to law enforcement agencies can hurt the criminal case or limit your options later. We are committed to defending defendants' rights and responsiveness and can speak with the relevant authorities on your behalf.
California Embezzlement Laws
Here are two scenarios to help you understand what embezzlement is in California.
- A salesperson is given their employer's credit card to pay for meals, entertainment, lodging, and other expenses but chooses to advertise the company's services on social media.
- A worker tasked with depositing money from everyday sales into the bank takes some money to pay her gambling debts, intending to repay the firm once she "wins" again.
While the salesperson can lose his job for abusing his privileges, he didn't embezzle. On the contrary, the bank depositor took funds not belonging to her to use for her benefit, and the conduct resulted in embezzlement.
PC 503 defines embezzlement as unlawfully taking assets entrusted to you, intending to deprive its owner of their property's use.
Before convicting the accused of the crime, the prosecution must verify the following facts of this offense beyond any reasonable doubt:
- The asset owner entrusted the asset to the defendant directly or through their agent
- The owner trusted the defendant
- The accused fraudulently used the property or converted it for their gain
- The defendant purposed to deprive the owner of the asset use
Intent to Deprive the Asset Owner of the Use of it
A PC 503 conviction requires that you plan to deprive the owner of the assets or its use for whatever duration, even temporarily counts.
Please note that intending to repay the money or return the assets isn't a valid defense to PC 503.
Fraudulently Using or Taking the Property
Acting fraudulently refers to causing loss to another via a breach of confidence, duty, or trust or taking unfair advantage of the individual.
A conviction requires that the loss of the second party benefited you.
The Property Owner Entrusted You With the Asset
An expectation or relationship of trust can be proved through various circumstances, including:
- An employer/employee relationship
- A board member, principal, or trustee of a company and therefore tasked with managing the firm's property or funds
- The person was temporarily given the property's possession
On top of a relationship that can suggest trust delegation, the prosecution should prove the accused has the property owner's confidence or trust. That means it is not sufficient to claim that the defendant is a worker when supporting the criminal charge.
How Embezzlement in California is Punished
PC 503 is prosecuted and convicted as either petty theft or grand theft, depending on the form and value of the stolen or misappropriated property.
You will face a grand theft charge if the asset is either:
- A gun
- A motor vehicle
- Worth at least $950
Grand Theft Penalties
Grand theft is a wobbler. That means the prosecutor can file you with either a felony or a California misdemeanor, depending on the case facts. A misdemeanor is punished by a maximum of one year in county jail. When convicted of a felony, you will spend up to three (3) years in county jail.
If charged with petty theft, you will face the following penalties:
- Fines of one thousand dollars
- Serve a six-month county jail time
Sometimes, the judge can award the accused with summary probation in place of incarceration. In this case, the defendant must adhere to conditions such as:
- Paying fines, victim restitution, and court costs
- Participating in a group or individual therapy
- Engaging in community service
- Seeking gainful employment
- Attending all court hearings
- Not violating any other law
Embezzlement of Public Money
Embezzling public funds is charged as a felony. If found guilty, you will face increased penalties, consequences, and fines, such as:
- Repaying the money or property, you stole
- Up to four years of incarceration
- Disqualification from any government position
You will also face additional penalties if aggravating factors exist.
a. Aggravated White Collar Crime Enhancements
An individual found guilty during the same criminal trial of two embezzlement felonies, which led to a loss to another of at least $100,000, will face white-collar crime enhancement. The enhancement leads to an additional five years in state prison on top of fines, probation, and incarceration time for the underlying crime.
b. Elder or Dependent Persons
If you look after a senior citizen, a person residing in an assisted living residence, or someone mentally or physically challenged, you are in a position of trust. The law deems embezzlement from these persons an aggravating factor and imposes increased consequences and penalties for criminal conduct.
Collateral Consequences of an Embezzlement Conviction
If you're a professional holding a state license, then the consequences of a conviction can be critical. The licensing boards expect you to be of good moral character and honesty. And a conviction of an offense of broken trust or dishonesty can lead to loss of professional license.
Moreover, a conviction can lead to challenges securing housing, employment, or business with other people. You can lose your firearm rights. If you aren't a U.S. citizen, a conviction can have detrimental immigration consequences like deportation or be marked inadmissible.
Fighting Embezzlement Charges
While PC 503 is a serious charge, you might be better placed to assert your rights by thinking through common legal defenses. Defending yourself is essential, and your experienced defense lawyer can assist you in identifying the most effective legal strategy. Here are the common defenses:
You Didn't Take the Funds
The most straightforward defense is showing that you didn't take the money. When using this defense, ensure that you have financial records to prove your innocence.
You Violated the Law Under Duress
Typically, there exists legal culpability for offenses committed under duress. If you can attest that a person threatened to harm you or your immediate family if you failed to misappropriate money, you might secure an acquittal. However, the line of defense is narrow.
You Believed You Had a Right to the Property
You cannot be sentenced for PC 503 if you believed you were entitled to the property or funds. You might have this belief, even if it is irrational or mistaken. The jury or judge decides if they warranted the belief by reviewing the case facts.
You Did Not Intend to Deprive
You are only guilty of California embezzlement if you intend to deprive the property owner of their asset or its use. That means it is a valid legal strategy for you to demonstrate that you didn't have the intent. For instance, you can claim that you were joking.
Your defense lawyer can also recommend a defense that isn't based on your innocence but focuses on the prosecution's case. To be sentenced, the prosecution must present evidence beyond reasonable doubt that the conduct satisfied all elements of the embezzlement.
If the prosecution doesn't have sufficient evidence, your defense attorney should highlight the gaps in the case. It can lead to case dismissal.
Related Crimes to Embezzlement
Below are crimes that can be charged instead of or alongside embezzlement.
Burglary (PC 459)
A person violates PC 459 when they get into a building to commit a theft or felony after getting inside.
Burglary committed in a residential building is charged as a felony punishable by up to six years in California state prison. Commercial burglary is filed as a California wobbler. A misdemeanor carries a year of incarceration, while a felony attracts a three-year jail sentence.
You could be guilty of the offense if you entered a room to commit embezzlement. It's because the crime is a theft crime.
PC 424 (Misappropriation of Public Funds)
A person violates PC 424 when they misuse public funds and are accountable for the money.
The only difference between PC 424 and PC 503 is that the former can only be committed by misusing public funds.
Misappropriation/Embezzlement by a Public Officer
Penal Code section 504 makes a public officer guilty of embezzlement when they fraudulently use public funds or property in a manner inconsistent with their official authority.
The offense attracts the same penalties and consequences as PC 503.
Civil Remedy for Embezzlement Victims
An embezzlement victim can also bring a civil lawsuit against you. Depending on the facts of the criminal case, possible claims include:
- Unjust enrichment
- Breach of contract
Many civil cases are resolved through negotiations. However, should the plaintiff file a lawsuit and win, the court might order you to pay full restitution. While the restitution amount cannot fully compensate the victim for their loss, it can help them rebuild their life.
Please note that irrespective of whether there was a successful criminal prosecution or not, the victim can bring their claim before a civil court to hold you accountable for the crime.
When the Police Warrant to Search You
A search warrant authorizes law enforcers to search you, your workplace, home, or any place suspected to have evidence of the crime. After the officers find the proof they are looking for, the search warrant allows them to seize the evidence.
Unless the search is:
- authorized by your permission,
- an incident to a legal arrest, or
- under other recognized exceptions,
the police should execute it under a valid search warrant.
There are numerous restrictions on how and when the police should execute the search warrant. Violating the rules can lead to the reduction or dismissal of the charges.
The judge issues and signs a search warrant on behalf of the state. The judge issues it (instead of the prosecution team) to ensure that a detached and neutral person analyzes the criminal investigation circumstances.
Before signing the warrant off, the judge should ensure the following requirements are met:
- The judge must believe that you committed the embezzlement crime, and
- The evidence of the embezzlement is likely to be found in the areas described in the warrant.
How the Police Should Execute the Search Warrant
The content of the warrant should be labeled with reasonable specifics. In other words, it must be clear, and nothing is left to the law enforcer's discretion when executing it. It applies to where to be searched and the asset to be seized. Warrants clear in the description should be upheld, while those unduly vague shouldn't.
Time to Execute a Search Warrant
The search warrant should be executed within ten days after the judge issued it. Otherwise, it will become void.
If it expires, it might be reissued, provided the judge thinks probable cause exists to support it.
The police should only execute a search warrant between 7 AM and 10 PM. However, if the judge finds good cause, they might search at any time of the day.
The police officers should offer a receipt for all property they have seized during their search. The officers should leave the receipt with:
- You (the defendant)
- The property owner
- Where they found the asset if they took it without any person being present
After taking the property, the law enforcer should keep it in police custody until they present it in court.
Finally, the police shouldn't search or seize anything until they announce their presence.
Motion to Suppress Evidence
The challenge to a search warrant lies in a motion to suppress evidence (PC 1538.5). You can file the motion to exclude seized evidence from the trial or recover the seized proof.
Your skilled defense lawyer can file the motion based on the facts below:
- The warrant was inadequate on its face
- There wasn't a probable cause to issue the warrant
- The warrant didn't particularly describe the seized asset or evidence
- The warrant was illegally executed
If the motion is granted, the prosecutor cannot use the evidence against you, leading to the reduction or dismissal of the criminal charges.
How to Plead During Your Arraignment
The judge will ask the defendant how they decide to plead during the arraignment. Generally, it is sensible to plead not guilty then. The accused can change their not-guilty plea at any time during their proceeding, something not true when it comes to a no-contest or guilty plea.
You should enter a plea of not guilty and later plead no contest or guilty once your defense attorney has reached an agreement with the prosecutor.
Here is why you should plead not guilty first.
- No attorney — Most defendants do not have skilled legal representation at first. That means you have not heard from your lawyer about mistakes and gaps by the prosecution team, potential legal defenses, and the behaviors of different prosecutors and judges.
- There is no discovery — More often than not, accused persons have not received discovery when requested to plead during the initial court hearing. A police report is an essential element of discovery at this stage. Without it, you might not know the strength of the prosecutor's evidence against you. And even when you have it, without additional discovery and investigation, you might not understand the power of the case against you.
- There are no promises — Typically, defendants pleading guilty during the arraignment do not know their sentence. The purpose of plea bargain negotiations is to receive benefits in return for a no-contest or guilty plea. Without an attorney who can negotiate with the prosecutor, a person who pleads guilty can be subject to the urge of judges and the prosecution.
- You are uncertain of the consequences — Especially without legal representation, accused individuals do not know the potential impacts and penalties of a conviction. Even if the court tells them that they will, for instance, lose their professional license or pay fines, they might not fully comprehend. Moreover, there are collateral consequences to the conviction that the judge might not explain. With an experienced attorney's help, people who do not have a chance at acquittal or dismissal can plead guilty to criminal charges that carry less severe penalties.
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Charged With Embezzlement
Being charged with a crime might put you in a challenging situation. You have many questions and require a person to help you understand what is going on. Unfortunately, many will take advantage of the situation and use it against you. Therefore, you must review mistakes to avoid being charged with the offense. It helps you prepare for the case and protect your life, future, and rights.
Speaking With the Law Enforcement Agency
After your arrest, tell the law enforcers that you are invoking your rights to remain silent and have legal representation. Avoid making comments or answering questions. Do not say anything until you've your lawyer present.
Also, do not volunteer to engage in an investigation. The officers might want to talk at your office or home or even request you to go to the police station. Respectfully decline and tell them that you will get back to them once you consult with your attorney.
Please note that the police aren't speaking to you to pardon or help you. Whatever you say, the police can use it against you. The police think you violated embezzlement laws, and they will take your explanations as either an attempt to deceive the officers or an admission of guilt.
Fleeing from the Officers
Should police officers approach you, be polite and stay relaxed. Resisting an arrest, running away, or arguing with the police can only worsen the situation. It can result in additional charges.
Leaving the State
It is not the time to travel for work or go on a vacation. You do not want to look like you are fleeing the jurisdiction. Instead, ensure you speak with your lawyer before making travel arrangements. Otherwise, the judge will issue your arrest warrant.
Throwing the Property in Question Away
While you are entitled to privacy, it is limited to specific places like your home. After you trash something, whether in the garbage can or on the ground, the police are free to go through or pick it up.
Failing to Attend Court Hearings
Failing to attend your scheduled court hearings or showing up late makes you look irresponsible. It is advisable to have a skilled criminal defense attorney represent you in court. Ensure you arrive at the courthouse at least fifteen minutes before the hearing starts, be respectful, and wear decently.
Using Social Media Platforms
Avoid posting online once you learn of the embezzlement accusation, even if you've not been charged or arrested yet. Do not discuss what happened online.
Instead, ensure your profiles are private to the public. Please note that the prosecution team could use posts unrelated to the crime against you. Funny content can be taken out of context and affect how law enforcers view you and your character.
Find a Skilled Pasadena Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
Typically, embezzlement is a financially motivated crime. What sets the crime apart is the length, complexity, and scope of the defense and investigation. The case can take months before resolving, affecting your freedom, livelihood, and reputation. Recognizing what might be at stake, you should depend on a legal expert for creativity and determination to handle the case. Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm brings many years of experience resolving complicated, document-extensive financial criminal cases for Pasadena clients. We can help you determine the best legal strategy and course of action for you based on the case circumstances, the victim's willingness to accept financial restitution, and the opportunity to negotiate for a reduced charge. Contact our legal office today at 626-628-0564 for a free case review and learn how we can help you.