Embezzlement is a form of theft that usually carries significant penalties in the California courts. What makes it different is that it involves a breach of trust or betrayal from a position of power.
According to California Penal Code Section 503, embezzlement occurs when a person entrusted with another’s property unlawfully uses that asset for their own benefit. This crime can involve money, tangible goods such as jewelry, services like paid time for domestic help or intangible assets like information.
Elements of embezzlement
The first is a fiduciary relationship. The prosecutor must show the judge evidence that the perpetrator was in a position of trust with the victim. This can take many forms, including an employee-employer relationship or one where the perpetrator is acting as a financial advisor to the victim.
The second element is that the accused must have used their access to the property for personal gain. This means that they took it for themselves and used it without consent from the rightful owner.
The third element is intent. Prosecutors must show evidence of intentional misappropriation or conversion of assets without authorization from the victim. A mistake like a miscalculation or misunderstanding of accounting entries does not suffice.
Punishments for embezzlement in California
The penalty for conviction of embezzlement depends on the value of the property taken. If funds or items embezzled are worth less than $950, a misdemeanor charge will apply and carry up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. If the value of the stolen property falls between $950 and $9,999, the state considers that a felony offense, punishable by three years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Anything above that threshold brings about more severe consequences like longer sentences and higher fines.
Given how serious an embezzlement conviction can be, the law allows the accused to fight or prevent false accusations. For example, one could argue that they had no intention to misappropriate the assets and that a misunderstanding may have led to an unfortunate mistake. If things go well, the judge may discard or reduce the charges.