California Penal Code Section 503 PC: Embezzlement


1. Definition and Elements of the Crime

Embezzlement is a white collar crime and theft offense that involves a person's unlawful taking of property that has been entrusted to them by someone else. While this offense is alternately referred to as employee theft, embezzlement under California Penal Code Section 503 PC can apply any time there is unlawful taking of entrusted property.

To prove that a defendant committed embezzlement, a prosecutor must be able to prove following elements:

  1. An owner entrusted his or her property to the defendant
  2. The owner did so because he or she trusted the defendant
  3. The defendant fraudulently converted or used that property for his or her own benefit
  4. AND when the defendant did this he or she intended to deprive the owner of the property's use

A person acts fraudulently when he or she takes undue advantage of another person or causes a loss to that person by breaching a duty, trust or confidence. If the defendant is a public official who fraudulently takes property with which he or she was entrusted, that defendant can be charged with embezzlement by a public official under California Penal Code Section 504 PC which is always a felony-level offense.

2. Related Offenses

Similar offenses include the following:

  1. Petty Theft - California Penal Code Section 484(a) PC
  2. Grand Theft - California Penal Code Section 487 PC
  3. Forgery - California Penal Code Section 470 PC
  4. Receiving Stolen Property - California Penal Code Section 496(a) PC
  5. Burglary - California Penal Code Section 459 PC

3. Examples

As part of his job, an employee is entrusted to take the company's cash earnings at the end of the day and deposit them at the bank. The employee develops a gambling problem and begins to take a small portion of the cash each day to keep for himself. He fully intends to pay the company back when he is more financially secure. This employee could be charged with embezzlement because he unlawfully kept company cash that was entrusted to him. The fact that he intended to restore the cash to the company is not a defense.

In another example, a man is sent on a business trip by his employer and is given the company credit card. He is told he can use the card for reasonable meals, accommodation and entertainment during his trip. During his trip, the man uses the company card to spend thousands on restaurants, hotels and nightclubs. His boss is furious at the expenditures and wants the man prosecuted. While he may lose his job, the man could not be prosecuted for embezzlement, as he had a legitimate claim of right to use the company credit card on himself.

4. Defenses to Embezzlement

If a person has a reasonable claim of right or a good faith belief that he or she was entitled to take the property in question, that person would not be guilty of embezzlement. Additionally, if the defendant did not intend to take the property from the owner, he or she would not be criminally liable under the statute. This would be the case if an employee took company property without permission to get it serviced. Because that employee did not intend to permanently deprive the company of the property, he did not commit embezzlement.

5. Penalties

Depending on the amount embezzled or value of the property in question, embezzlement is treated like either a petty theft or a grand theft offense. If the embezzled amount was $950 or less, the defendant can be charged with a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of six months in jail and court fines. If the amount exceeded $950, the offense is a "wobbler" that can either be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, with a maximum sentence of three years in prison. If the amount embezzled exceeded $65,000, an additional year in prison can be tacked on to any prison sentence. If the amount embezzled exceeded $3,200,000, another four years can be added to the defendant's sentence.

6. Criminal Defense for Embezzlement

If you are currently being investigated for embezzlement, or have been charged criminally with this offense, it is crucial that you speak with a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney right away. Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut is a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience who previously prosecuted white collar offenses as part of the Los Angeles County District Attorney's elite Major Fraud Division. From his years of experience as a white-collar prosecutor, Mr. Kraut knows how to effectively challenge allegations of embezzlement and in many instances can work pre-filing to help avoid criminal charges altogether.

For more information about embezzlement charges, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut at the Kraut Law Group located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1520, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.

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