People entrusted with public office jobs usually control large sums of public money and are expected to perform their duties faithfully without enriching or mishandling this money. However, not every person is trustworthy, and some end up misusing or misappropriating public funds, which is wrong and a punishable crime.
In most cases, the culprits of this offense are the public officials accountable for the public funds. However, the prosecutor can pursue these charges against anyone who has official control over government money. Although you do not have to injure anyone or use a weapon to commit this crime, a conviction for the offense of misappropriation of public money can result in harsh consequences.
At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we can offer the legal guidance necessary to navigate these charges and the confusing court protocols for the best possible outcome. If you or a loved one is under investigation or charged as a suspect in a misappropriation of public funds case in Long Beach, do not hesitate to speak with a reliable attorney.
Our defense attorneys will take your case seriously and prepare the best defenses to help you obtain the best possible outcome.
An Overview of Misappropriation of Public Funds Offense Under Penal Code (PC) 424
Although we expect people in public offices to have high integrity and morals, they sometimes misuse public finances for their own benefit. Fortunately, under PC 424, the court can hold them accountable for these immoral and unfaithful behaviors.
According to PC 424, it is a felony offense for any public officer or any other person entrusted with the control or oversight of government money to use it in ways different from what their job requires of them. For the sake of PC 424, a public officer could be a federal, state, or municipal government worker, including (but not limited to) the following:
- Lawyers and accountants.
- Appointed officials.
- Elected officials.
A typical example of when the prosecutor could file this charge against someone is if he/she runs a non-profit corporation or organization and receives government money. Then he/she decides to transfer or use it for his/her gain or bills.
In this case, the prosecutor can charge this person under PC 424 even if he/she is not a government employee. What matters in this situation is that public money is involved and misused.
Instances Which Can Attract Charges Under PC 424
Generally speaking, there are numerous ways that public funds could be misused, attracting charges under PC 424. Below are a variety of ways you can commit a PC 424 violation:
- Using public money for your gain or another person's gain.
- Loaning public funds to earn profit from them or for any other unauthorized reason.
- Knowingly and willingly altering, destroying, or falsifying public money accounts.
- Refusing to pay or transfer public funds to anyone with authority over it.
- Knowingly and willingly erasing an account, making an entry, or maintaining a false account.
As you can see above, numerous acts or behaviors you never considered illegal could attract charges under PC 424, leading to severe and life-changing penalties upon conviction. Unless the money involved is insignificant, the prosecutor could file a PC 424 violation against you in any of the above circumstances.
Court Procedures to Expect When Charged With a PC 424 Violation
When the prosecutor files a PC 424 violation against you, you should prepare to challenge the offense at every stage of the court system for the best possible outcome, including:
1. The Arraignment Hearing
During this initial court hearing, the court will let you know the charges you are up against and your legal rights, and it will give you a chance to enter a plea of your choice, including:
- No Contest.
- Not Guilty.
If you do not have a personal attorney, the court will appoint a public defender to represent you in this hearing and subsequent hearings. Your attorney will advise you on the best plea choice depending on the facts and circumstances of your unique case. During the arraignment hearing, the judge will also decide whether to grant your bail request.
Bail is the amount of money you pay the court as security for your release to go home and wait for the subsequent hearings without compromising your daily activities. Whether or not you will be eligible to secure your freedom on bail will depend on the following factors:
- Your criminal record.
- The seriousness of the alleged violation.
- Your record of returning to the court after posting bail.
- Whether you are a flight risk.
- Your conduct in court.
- The ties you have with your family and community.
Securing a release from jail on bail is vital because it helps protect your freedom, pending the outcome of the alleged violation. After posting bail, you will also have ample time to look for a reliable and experienced attorney to represent you at the subsequent court-scheduled hearings for the best possible outcome.
2. Pretrial Hearing
Although you can waive your legal rights to a pretrial, this hearing could work in your favor for the best possible results on the alleged violation. If you choose to go for a pretrial, the court will schedule a hearing within ten (10) days after your initial hearing.
During this hearing, the prosecutor and your attorney will share information and the evidence they have on the charges you are up against to determine whether your case qualifies to stand trial. Generally, the purpose of the pretrial hearing is to give the prosecutor and your attorney a chance to discuss the following through a procedure known as the discovery process:
- Intangible factors of the offense.
- The weakness and strengths of the offense.
- Plea bargain options.
With a skilled and seasoned attorney who is familiar with or has a solid relationship with local court judges and prosecutors, you could resolve the alleged charge at this stage of the court system.
3. The Trial Hearing
Whether you will be guilty of the alleged violation will depend on the court's decision at the trial hearing. At this hearing, you can choose a team of jurors or a judge to decide whether the allegations you are up against are true. The prosecutor will present evidence and his/her arguments to show the court you are guilty of a PC 424 violation.
Although it could be challenging to prove you are guilty under PC 424, the prosecutor will do everything in his/her power to build a strong case against you. To secure a conviction against you for a PC 424 violation, the prosecutor must present evidence to prove the following elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt:
You Had a Job Responsibility to Handle or Control Public Money
One of the primary elements the prosecutor must prove for a PC 424 violation conviction is that you had a legal responsibility to handle, control, or manage public funds. The prosecutor will depend on official documents highlighting your job responsibility in the public office as evidence you had control over public funds.
You Breached the Responsibilities of Your Employment
Formal jobs, especially in public offices, require eligible candidates to agree to particular terms and conditions to secure the job. In this context, your contract could prohibit you from mishandling public money. The prosecutor will read this part of your employment contract conditions at trial and argue that you breached them when you committed the offense.
The court could likely find you guilty of a PC 424 violation if you signed the agreement or contract willingly and knowingly before securing the job responsibility.
You Fraudulently Utilized Public Funds for Personal Benefit
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, you violate PC 424 when you fraudulently use public money for personal benefit or gain. For a PC 424 violation conviction, the prosecutor must prove that you fraudulently or falsely utilized public money for personal benefit. For instance, using public funds to buy yourself or your fiancé a luxury car could qualify as a fraudulent use of public funds for personal gain.
The prosecutor can provide bank statements and receipts to prove this element of the crime to the court and obtain a guilty verdict against you for a PC 424 violation.
You Did Create False Accounts or False Entries on Existing Accounts
The prosecutor will use the bank statement of an altered or newly opened account to build his/her case against you for a PC 424 violation. The prosecutor could also obtain previous bank account details and keenly compare them with current information to prove that you did alter the account for a PC 424 violation conviction.
You Willfully Did Refuse to Pay or Transfer Money to the Intended and Rightful Destination
When you refuse to pay or transfer public funds to any respective recipient or destination, you could be guilty under PC 424. To prove this element of the crime, the prosecutor must provide a draft, order, or subpoena that requests that you transfer or pay the money to a particular recipient.
The prosecutor can use eyewitness information and statements from the recipients (people anticipating receiving the funds) to prove that you failed or refused to pay them for a PC 424 violation conviction.
The Difference Between Embezzlement and a PC 424 Violation
Although the crime of embezzlement under PC 503 is very similar to a PC 424 violation, these two crimes are different in the eyes of the law. According to PC 503, you commit the crime of embezzlement when you fraudulently appropriate another person's property or asset that he/she has entrusted you with for a certain period of time or as part of your job responsibility.
For instance, when you are a sports club's treasurer and decide to withdraw some funds from the club's account to pay your hotel expenses, this could qualify as embezzlement under PC 503. Embezzlement is generally a misdemeanor, but the prosecutor could pursue the offense as a felony if the value of the property in question exceeds $950.
In most cases, the prosecutor will file embezzlement charges against you if he/she lacks sufficient evidence to secure a conviction against you for a PC 424 violation because these two offenses are closely related.
Potential Penalties to Anticipate After a PC 424 Violation Conviction
Since a PC 424 violation is a felony, a conviction can attract severe and life-changing penalties. Upon a PC 424 violation conviction at trial, the judge will schedule a sentencing hearing to determine a fair sentence for your offense. Your attorney's presence during this hearing is as critical as any other hearing to help provide mitigating arguments to convince the court you deserve a lighter sentence.
Listed below are the standard penalties to expect upon a PC 424 violation conviction:
- Incarceration in the state prison for 2, 3, or 4 years.
- Felony probation.
- A fine not exceeding $10,000.
In addition to these penalties, a PC 424 violation conviction comes with other negative consequences that could make your life more challenging after completing your sentence and paying your dues, including:
- Challenges of finding a reliable employment.
- Loss of your gun ownership rights.
- Challenges of finding reliable housing or apartment to rent.
- Denial of admission to the college.
- Deteriorating social life and relationships.
- Ineligibility and revocation of professional licenses.
Although most people worry about the immediate consequences of a conviction, several other ramifications mentioned above could affect your quality of life afterward. Fortunately, you can avoid them or reduce the impact of a conviction by working with a skilled defense attorney to assist in challenging the alleged PC 424 violation.
Potential Conditions of Your Formal Probation After a PC 424 Violation Conviction
Also known as felony probation, formal probation is an alternative sentencing option you could qualify for during the sentencing hearing to serve part or all of your sentence out of legal custody under supervision. However, you must be ready to do the following:
- Comply with the required court-ordered conditions and requirements.
- Report to a court-appointed probation officer regularly.
Not every defendant qualifies for probation, but with the help of a seasoned defense attorney, you could be eligible for this alternative sentencing option. When deciding whether to sentence you to formal probation after a PC 424 violation conviction, the court will consider the following factors:
- The severity and seriousness of your conviction.
- Your criminal background.
- Your attitude about being on probation.
- Your character and behavior in court.
- The possible impact of serving your sentence behind bars.
- Your attorney mitigating arguments in your case.
- The prosecutor's aggravating arguments in your case.
If the court decides to award you formal probation, you should be ready to adhere to the following potential conditions and requirements:
- Perform community service.
- Consent to regular police searches.
- Pay court fees and any court-ordered criminal fines.
- Consent to regular appointments or meetings with a probation officer.
- Agree to stay crime-free.
- Agree to electronic monitoring.
Since every case is different, the specific conditions the court will require you to abide by will depend on the circumstances and facts of your unique case.
You must comply with the above rules and conditions for the maximum period required by the court (a maximum of three years). If you violate or fail to comply with the court-ordered probation conditions, the police will arrest you, and the prosecutor will file a probation violation against you.
When that happens, you should be ready to challenge the charge at a probation violation hearing, which the court will schedule to determine whether the allegations you are facing are true. During this hearing, your attorney can present evidence and eyewitness testimonies to challenge the alleged violation. Below are the potential consequences to expect at the end of this hearing:
- A stern warning and reinstatement of your probation or parole with the same terms and conditions.
- Probation revocation and imprisonment for the maximum period required for a PC 424 violation conviction.
- Modification of your probation conditions to include harsher rules and terms.
According to PC 1203, the court can terminate your probation early (ahead of the required timeframe), eliminating the above unbearable terms and conditions. However, to qualify for this, you must complete at least eighteen months of probation without violating any condition. Additionally, you or your attorney must be ready to prove to the court that:
- You did complete and adhere to the required terms for that minimum period.
- The are several reasons that justify you deserve early termination of your probation, for example, a job offer.
How Your Attorney Can Challenge the Alleged PC 424 Violation
If you are in legal custody or charged with a PC 424 violation, a skilled attorney can utilize various defenses to challenge the offense for the best attainable outcome. Some of the defenses that could work to your advantage for acquittal of the case or a lighter offense include the following:
You Did Not Misappropriate Public Funds
Sometimes someone with a vengeful motive could accuse you of misusing public money as revenge or to satisfy his/her interests. Fortunately, the court understands the possibility of these kinds of issues, meaning a reliable attorney could challenge the evidence for the best possible outcome.
Your attorney can provide evidence, including bank statements and eyewitness testimonies, to prove you did nothing unlawful since the rightful or intended recipient received the money. If you used the funds for the rightful purpose within your jurisdiction, you would not be guilty of a PC 424 violation.
Your Actions Were Not Willful
For a PC 424 violation conviction, there must be enough evidence to prove that you had criminal intent and willfully misappropriated public money for personal gain. If your defense attorney can challenge this element of the crime, the court could drop or reduce the charges you are facing to a lighter charge.
The Funds in Question Are Not Public Money
Public funds typically come from the state or government and are intended to help the public access goods and services. In most cases, this money comes from the payment of fines, licensing, and taxation. That means you cannot be guilty of a PC 424 violation if the money was from a family member's or your account.
Someone Coerced You To Misappropriate or Transfer Public Funds
It is also a reasonable defense to argue that another person coerced you to misappropriate or transfer public funds, and you did not do so willingly. For instance, a person could threaten to injure a family member if you refuse to misappropriate public funds as he/she requires.
Text messages or emails from the person (actual perpetrator) could be used as proof or evidence that you did not commit the offense willingly and only did so because you feared for the safety of your loved ones.
You are a Victim of Police Misconduct
A PC 424 violation is a crime ripe for police misconduct issues. Some police officers can violate your legal rights during the arrest or investigation process, leading to a wrongful conviction if you do not have adequate legal representation. Below are various forms of police misconduct the judge could consider reasonable and applicable in your case:
- Falseful interrogations.
- Giving a false statement against you in court.
- Refusing to avail your attorney upon your request.
- Illegal or warrantless search and seizure.
If your defense attorney can prove with sufficient evidence that any of the above forms of police misconduct apply in your case, you will not be guilty under PC 424.
Aside from embezzlement, other related crimes the prosecutor could file against you if the available evidence is inadequate to secure a conviction against you for a PC 424 violation include:
Find a Reliable Pasadena Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If you face allegations of misappropriation of public funds under PC 424 in Long Beach, our experienced and profound attorneys at California Criminal Lawyer Group can help. We have a successful record of defending our clients against theft crimes, including a PC 424 violation, and will do everything to help you obtain the best possible outcome.
We invite you to call us at 562-966-8120 to make an obligation-free consultation with our reputable defense attorneys. We will thoroughly investigate your case's facts and interview any available eyewitnesses to prepare defenses that could convince the court to drop or reduce the alleged violation.