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Embezzlement - California Penal Code 503

California Penal Code 503 prohibits the fraudulent appropriation of property by a person to whom it has been intrusted. Thus, a bank teller who, without consent, pockets cash from the till that he/she has been intrusted with, for the teller’s own benefit, has embezzled the property of the bank.

Our Criminal Defense Attorneys will Require the District Attorney to Prove 4 Elements:

In order to prove that a defendant is guilty of embezzlement, a prosecutor must be able to prove the following elements:

  1. The owner of the property, or the owner’s agent, intrusted it to the defendant;
  2. It was intrusted because the owner trusted the defendant;
  3. The defendant fraudulently converted or used the property for the defendant's/ embezzler’s own benefit; and,
  4. When the defendant diverted or used the property, the defendant did so for the defendant’s own benefit.

In re Basinger (1988) 45 Cal.3d 1348,1362–1363 [249 Cal.Rptr. 110, 756 P.2d 833]; People v. Wooten (1996) 44 Cal.App.4th 1834, 1845 [52 Cal. Rptr.2d 765]; People v. Kronemyer (1987) 189 Cal.App.3d 314, 361 [234 Cal.Rptr. 442].

A person acts fraudulently when that person takes undue advantage of another person or causes a loss to that person by breaching a duty of trust or confidence. Thus, a trustee who takes money from the trust beneficiaries for personal use takes undue advantage of the position, thus acting fraudulently to cause loss to the beneficiaries.

People v. Talbot (1934) 220 Cal. 3, 15 [28 P.2d 1057]; People v. Stein (1979) 94 Cal.App.3d 235, 241 [156 Cal.Rptr. 299].

These Legal Defenses apply to a Penal Code 503 Charge and are Suggested by our Criminal Defense Lawyers

  1. The defendant acted in a good faith belief with authorization to use the property, even if that good faith belief is mistaken;
  2. Demonstrating that the defendant did not take the property;
  3. That the money or property was taken for a legitimate business purpose;
  4. Insufficient evidence
  5. Absence of intent: To prove embezzlement, a prosecutor must show that the defendant had a specific intent to defraud the victim of property intrusted to the defendant through the fiduciary relationship. The defendant must have intended to deprive the victim of the property. For example, the defendant may have spent funds for purposes other than those specified by the parties' agreement or fiduciary relationship. Under California law, an intent to temporarily deprive the owner of any property will usually, but not always, be sufficient for an embezzlement charge.
  6. No demand: If the owner does not make a demand, the defendant may be able to offer a defense of neglect or another non-criminal reason for the lack of return.
  7. Embezzlement act done under Duress-Duress is a threat of harm made to compel someone to do an act against their will or judgment. As an example, if someone is threatened with bodily harm unless they perform an embezzlement act such as a bank teller being threatened with bodily harm to a family member, the act is done under duress and is a defense that can be used to defend against a charge of embezzlement.
  8. The government has a certain period of time, often referred to as the Statute of limitations, within it must actually charge a person with a crime. If the statute of limitations expires before the charge is brought by the government, then the charge will be dismissed. There is no actual Statute of Limitations for embezzlement of public money. However, for all other acts of embezzlement, if it is a misdemeanor then the statute of limitations is one year and if it is a felony, the statute of limitations is three years.

2 Witkin & Epstein, California Criminal Law (3d ed. 2000) Crimes Against Property, § 26: 6 Millman, Sevilla & Tarlow, California Criminal Defense Practice, Ch. 143, Crimes Against Property, § 143.01 (Matthew Bender).

Alternatives to Criminal Prosecution:

Some defendants who suffer from PTSD or other qualifying mental conditions may qualify to participate in a Mental Health Diversion program. Participation in a Mental Health Diversion Program is an alternative to criminal prosecution. If a defendant is qualified by the Court and successfully completes the program, the criminal charges are dismissed and they may very well be eligible for a Petition to Seal which, if granted by the court, effectively eliminates any record whatsoever of the criminal charges or arrest in the criminal record that is available to the public.

For Veterans convicted of a felony, there is favorable treatment pursuant to PC 1170.91. In addition, veterans can take advantage of a Military Diversion Program under Penal Code 1001.80 for misdemeanor criminal charges. This is a program that benefits veterans who can connect certain mental conditions to military service. Once a veteran is qualified, they are taken completely out of the prosecution mode and enter a diversion program. Once that program is completed, not only are the criminal charges dismissed but the veteran is also in a position to seal their criminal record. This will prevent anyone other than law enforcement from seeing any aspect of the charges on their record. Further information, regarding a Military Diversion Program, can be found by clicking Military Diversion.

Penalties for Violations of Penal Code 503:

Embezzlement is a wobbler crime, meaning the defendant could be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony depending upon the value of the property taken:

(1) Misdemeanor embezzlement – When the property taken is valued at less than $950. Misdemeanor embezzlement charges in California may result in one year in jail, up to $1,000 fine and restitution of the amount taken.

(2) If the allegation is that more than $950 was taken, the charges will escalate to the level of a felony and the penalties will range from restitution, probation and extended jail time. the low term of a felony embezzlement charge is 16 months; the midterm is 2 years and the aggravated term is 3 years in county jail.

Expungement/Dismissal of Charges:

Even if someone is convicted of a Penal Code 503 violation, upon successful completion of probation, a defendant can file a Petition to Expunge their record and dismiss the charges. This adds a very favorable entry to their criminal record and is extremely helpful when applying for employment, housing, etc.

Remember, Ronald Dinan and Associates, is a firm of experienced and aggressive theft lawyers, who can help in achieving the best outcome in your case. Many times criminal case dispositions will include reduction or outright dismissal of the number and/or severity of criminal charges, diversion programs, probation, reduced fines with installment payments, alternatives to jail, etc.

To get immediate help with your criminal matter, we invite you to call us to discuss your case. We answer all telephone calls in a polite, professional and helpful manner.

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The Law Itself: California Penal Code 503

  • Embezzlement is the fraudulent appropriation of property by a person to whom it has been intrusted.