Unraveling the Differences Between Theft by False Pretenses, Theft by Trick, and Theft by Embezzlement

In California, theft Encompasses a Range of Offenses, Including theft by False Pretenses, theft by Trick, and embezzlement. These Offenses, Which Can Be Charged as misdemeanors or felonies Depending on the Amount of the Property That Was Taken, Involve the Appropriation of Property Through Different Methods and With Distinct Legal Elements That Are Critical to Understanding How to Successfully Defend Against These Particular Theft Crimes.

Theft by False Pretenses

Penal Code section 532 defines theft by false pretenses as obtaining property from another person through knowingly false representations with the intent to defraud. The essential elements of theft by false pretenses in California are as follows:

False Representation: The defendant must make a false representation, statement, or promise, either orally or in writing, with the intent to deceive the victim.

Knowledge of Falsity: The defendant must have knowledge that the representation is false or must be aware that there is no basis for the statement made.

Intent to Defraud: The primary purpose of the false representation must be to induce the victim to transfer ownership or possession of their property.

Reliance: The victim must rely on the false representation and be deceived into transferring their property based on that deception.

Transfer of Property: As a result of the false pretenses, the victim must willingly transfer ownership or possession of the property to the perpetrator.

Theft by Trick

Theft by trick is similar to theft by false pretenses, but differs in the means used to obtain the property. Theft by trick is governed by Penal Code Section 484, and occurs when a defendant acquires someone's property through deceitful actions, misrepresentations, or omissions. The key elements of theft by trick are as follows:

Deceptive Actions: The defendant must use deceitful actions, misrepresentations, or omissions to trick the victim and obtain possession of their property.

Temporary Possession: There must be a voluntary and temporary transfer of possession of property to the defendant. In other words, the victim must believe that the defendant will use it for a brief specific purpose or will return it at a later time.

Intent to Permanently Deprive: The defendant must have the intent to permanently deprive the victim of the property. Even if the possession is initially intended to be temporary, if the defendant at some point intends to permanently deprive the victim of the property, the theft by trick has been completed.

Theft by Embezzlement

Theft by embezzlement involves the misappropriation of property by someone who has been entrusted with its lawful possession. Under Penal Code section 503, embezzlement occurs when a person, while lawfully in possession of another's property, converts it for their own use or benefit. The key elements of theft by embezzlement are as follows:

Entrustment of Property: The defendant must be in lawful possession or have been entrusted with the property due to their position of trust, such as an employee, agent, or trustee.

Conversion: The defendant wrongfully converts the property for their own use or benefit, breaching the fiduciary duty owed to the owner.

Intent to Deprive: The defendant must have the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property by converting it for personal gain.

Distinguishing Factors

Nature of Deception: The primary distinction between theft by false pretenses and theft by trick lies in the nature of the deception. In theft by false pretenses, the perpetrator uses false representations or statements to induce the victim to transfer property willingly. In contrast, theft by trick involves using deceitful actions, misrepresentations, or omissions to trick the victim into parting with their property temporarily, with the ultimate intent to permanently deprive them.

Entrustment and Fiduciary Duty: Embezzlement is unique in that it involves the misappropriation of property by someone who was entrusted with lawful possession due to their position of trust or authority. Embezzlers typically have a fiduciary duty to handle the property for the owner's benefit, making the breach of trust a critical element of this offense.

Intent to Deceive vs. Deprive: While all three offenses require an intent to deceive, the intent to deprive differs in embezzlement. In theft by false pretenses and theft by trick, the intent to deprive arises at the time of the fraudulent acquisition of property. In contrast, with embezzlement, the intent to deprive arises after the accused lawfully obtains possession of the property but later converts it for personal gain.

If you have been arrested for a theft crime, it is necessary that you discuss your case immediately with a knowledgeable and aggressive criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. As a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience, Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Michael Kraut has defended clients charged with each type of theft crime mentioned above.

For more information about the theft crimes, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Michael Kraut at the Kraut Criminal & DUI Lawyers 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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