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Defending Embezzlement Charges in California

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Apr 15, 2021

Review of Penal Code 503 PC Embezzlement Charges and Defenses

California Penal Code 503 PC describes the white collar crime of embezzlement as the “fraudulent appropriation of property by a person to whom it has been entrusted.”

PC 503 embezzlement is commonly called “employee theft” because they were initially given permission to have access to the money or property.

Embezzlement Laws in California – Penal Code 503 PC
PC 503 embezzlement is the unlawful taking of property or money by someone to whom it was entrusted.

Essentially, embezzlement in California occurs when a person takes property (money, patents, trusts, etc.) that the owner entrusted them to watch over.

They take this property and use it for their own benefit, with the intent to deprive the owner of it.

Penal Code 503 embezzlement is different than other forms of theft crimes in that the property had been entrusted to them by the owner.

If the value of the property is less than $950, then the case will normally be filed as a misdemeanor crime. If greater than $950, then a felony embezzlement case can be filed by the prosecutor.

A closely related crime is misappropriation by a public officer defined under California Penal Code 504 PC.

For more information, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are providing an overview below. 

Factors That Must Be Proven for an Embezzlement Conviction

In order for the prosecutor to convict a defendant of PC 503 embezzlement, they must prove several factors under CALCRIM 1806:

  • the owner entrusted their property to the defendant;
  • the owner did this because they trusted the defendant to watch over it;
  • then the defendant fraudulently used the property for their own purpose, or the purposes of a third-party, and
  • the defendant did this with the intention of keeping the property from the owner.

The elements of trust and intention are what sets embezzlement apart from other theft charges.

This relationship of trust between the owner and defendant usually occurs in a situation where the defendant was an employee of the company.

Alternative theft charges to embezzlement 

In California, there are several types of theft, all with varying degrees of punishment, which are based on the value of the stolen property and the defendant's prior criminal history.

  • larceny: intentionally and unlawfully taking and carrying away another person's property.
  • theft by false pretenses: getting control over someone else's property by false representations or deceptions (lying).

Related crimes for PC 503 embezzlement

Penal Code 459 PC - burglary,

Penal Code 470 PC - forgery,

Penal Code 487 PC - grand theft,

Penal Code 496 PC - receiving stolen property,

Penal Code 424 PC - misappropriation of public funds.

What is the Punishment for Embezzlement in California?

As mentioned above, the punishment for embezzlement will depend on the defendant's prior criminal history and the value of the stolen property.

An embezzlement charge will fall under grand theft if:

  • the value of the stolen property (money, labor, real or personal property) is over $950;
  • over $250, if the stolen property encompasses certain farm crops, domestic fowls, or
  • the stolen property is an automobile or firearm.

Any other type of property, or if the property has a value below these thresholds, will be considered petty theft.

Penalties for Penal Code 503 PC embezzlement
Penalties for a PC 503 embezzlement conviction will depend on the value of the property taken.

If the property allegedly embezzled fell under petty theft, the potential punishment would be up to $1000, up to 6 months in county jail, or both.

A court will prosecute embezzlement grand theft as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

If the prosecution charges you with a misdemeanor, the maximum sentence is up to one year in county jail.

If they charge you with felony grand theft, the court may sentence you to either:

  • sixteen (16) months, two (2) years, or three (3) years in county jail; or
  • felony probation with up to a year of incarceration in county jail.

Aggravating factors 

It should also be noted that grand theft felony charges for money or property with considerably high values can be subject to additional and consecutive prison sentences. For instance:

  • if the property was worth more than $65,000, you could receive an additional consecutive one-year term;
  • If it was valued at over $200,000, you would receive two additional years;
  • If the property was valued over $1,300,000, an additional three years might be added;
  • if the property embezzled was over $3,200,000, an additional four years.

What Civil Remedies Are Available for Embezzlement Victims?

If you have been a victim of embezzlement, whether it is considered grand theft, petty theft, a misdemeanor, or a felony, you may be entitled to bring a civil lawsuit against the defendant.

This suit would act outside of the criminal case against the defendant, but might be unnecessary as many times the court orders the guilty defendant to pay the victims back.

A victim seeking civil remedies might bring a case for breach of contract, conversion, and unjust enrichment with the hopes of being paid back for the money or property stolen.

How Can I Fight PC 503 Embezzlement Charges?

Navigating a Penal Code 503 embezzlement charge can be very confusing. Having an experienced criminal attorney on your side from the beginning can increase your chances at a favorable outcome.

There are some common defense strategies we can use to fight the charges, such as:

  • lack of fraudulent use;
  • lack of intent to deprive;
  • good faith belief a right to property.

Recall the factors listed above that must be proven for an embezzlement conviction.

We might be able to make an argument you didn't fraudulently use the property or money, or take advantage of the owner.

Criminal Defense for California Embezzlement Cases
Contact our firm to learn how we can help you.

In other words, you didn't fraudulently use the money or property in a way that was for your benefit and not the owner's.

On a similar note, perhaps we can show there was no intent to deprive the owner the use of their property, or you had a good faith belief that you had a right to the property.

Perhaps you believed you had a right to the property. A jury can review the facts of the case and determine whether you honestly thought you had a good faith right to the money or property.

We will review your case and devise a unique defense that can bring about the best possible consequences. 

Through prefiling intervention, we may be able to avoid the formal filing of criminal charges before court.

Eisner Gorin LLP has decades of experience defending clients against all types of fraud or theft related crimes in California.

We have two office locations in Los Angeles County. Call our law firm for an initial consultation at (310) 328-3776, or contact us online.

About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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