California “Embezzlement” Law | Penal Code 503 PC

In California, embezzlement is labeled as a white collar theft offense. It is charged under penal code 503 pc[1] making it a crime to fraudulently appropriate property which has been entrusted to someone.

For instance, usually charged against a fiduciary, embezzlement can be applied to public officials misappropriating money, or using money or property outside the permissible scope of employment.

It’s not uncommon for someone to be additionally charged with grand theft, receiving stolen property, petty theft, or burglary

Embezzlement is generally a wobbler, which allows the prosecutor to charge misdemeanor or felony charges. Moreover, whether a person is charged with a misdemeanor or felony will largely depends on the amount. If the amount embezzled if below $950, then the prosecutor will file misdemeanor charges. However, if the amount exceeds $950, then the crime may be charged as a felony or misdemeanor.

What is the Prosecutor Required to Prove for PC 503?

To prove someone is guilty of PC 503, the prosecutor must prove each of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. An owner (or agent) entrusted their property to the defendant;
  1. The owner (or agent) did so because they trusted the defendant;
  1. The defendant used or converted the property for his or her own benefit;
  1. The defendant intended to permanently deprive the owner or removed the property from the owner for an extended period of time where the owner was deprived of a major portion of value or enjoyment of the property.[2]

What is the Punishment for California Embezzlement?

Penal code 503 is usually punishable in the same manner as other theft crimes. However, the court will consider the planning, sophistication, complexity, length of the offense, and amount stolen as crucial factors when ordering an appropriate punishment.

Even as a first-time offender, a felony conviction carries a sentence of 16 months, 2, or 3 years in the county jail. A misdemeanor conviction carries up to 1 year in the county jail. If the amount taken exceeds $100,000, then you can face a mandatory state prison sentence.

Other sentencing consequences include:

  • Payment of restitution
  • Denial of occupational or professional license
  • Adverse immigration consequences for non U.S. citizens
  • A felony conviction carries a life-time prohibition from owning or possessing a firearm

However, a felony embezzlement conviction may be eligible for reduction to a misdemeanor after successful completion of probation.

Legal Defenses to Embezzlement Charges

  •  Intent: All theft crimes require a person to act with the specific intent to steal. Therefore, acts of misfortune, accident, or mistake will serve as a viable defense in negating the prosecutor’s specific intent claims. The law will not punish someone who acted without any designed purpose to break the law.
  • Claim of Right: If someone believes in good-faith that they were entitled to the money, even if their belief was mistaken or unreasonable, then the good-faith claim of right can be asserted as an affirmative defense. To succeed on this defense, it must be established that the defendant (1) openly took the money; and (2) believed in good faith that they had a right to the specific property.[3]
  • Amount: As noted above, the amount of property must exceed $950 to sustain felony charges.  If the amount is questionable, a defense actuary or forensic account may be able to find holes in the prosecutor’s case that would suggest the amount is below $950 making the crime only a misdemeanor.
  • False Accusations: It is not uncommon for someone to be falsely accused by another partner or employer. There could be an unlimited number of reasons why someone could claim a crime occurred. For instance, motivations could include: to avoid sexual harassment claims, employment suits, revenge, or to succeed on child custody in the event the alleged crime arose out of a community property shared business.

What are Examples of Embezzlement?

  • Dan was an employee for a corporation. He was issued a company credit card that he is allowed to use it for company purchases. Over the span of 2 years, Dan purchased non-company related items that totaled $50,000. Here, the prosecution could charge Dan with felony embezzlement since the amount take exceeded $950. Furthermore, he abused his position of trust by purchasing non-company items for his own benefit.
  • Barb is a financial adviser who invests her clients money in various markets. Barb took $5,000 from one of her client accounts and used it to pay off her student loan. After a few months, Barb repaid the money without anyone noticing. Here, Barb would be charged with PC 503 because she abused her position of trust by appropriating client money for her personal benefit. Although Barb ultimately repaid the money, it will not excuse her criminal liability. However, it would be a factor in mitigating her sentence. 

Contact Us to Schedule a Free Consultation

There is no question that when someone needs an experienced embezzlement attorney when facing such accusations. A substantial part of our practice includes representing clients accused of all sorts of theft offenses including penal code 503 pc. Our office can employ experts, investigators, and forensic accounts to examine the validity of the prosecutor’s case. If you’ve been arrested, charged, or under investigation for embezzlement, contact an experienced Newport Beach Criminal Defense Lawyer at the Law Offices of John D. Rogers to schedule a risk free consultation.

Attorney John D. Rogers is a board certified criminal law specialist. This is a prestigious distinction that less than 2% of California criminal defense lawyers have achieved. He has unmatched success in defending his clients in all types of theft crime cases, especially when his clients are faced with a “must win” dilemma. He focuses his representation to dismiss charges or obtain an acquittal at trial.

Legal Footnotes:

[1] Penal Code 503 defined – (“Embezzlement is the fraudulent appropriation of property by a person to whom it has been intrusted.”)

[2] CALCRIM No. 1806.

[3] CALCRIM No. 1863.

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