Charged With Embezzlement In California

[playht_listen_button]California law defines embezzlement as “the fraudulent appropriation of property by a person to whom it has been entrusted.” Considered a “white-collar crime,” embezzlement is different from theft because the stolen property was being legally held by the embezzler. In other words, the embezzler had some sort of custody or control over the property or money in question, like a financial manager who re-routed their company’s wire transfer to their personal bank account instead. Theft, on the other hand, is where the individual has no custody or control over the property, like stealing a laptop in the library or stealing a watch from the jewelry store.

Embezzlement is a very serious crime. If you were charged with embezzlement, contact a defense attorney immediately.


The prosecution must prove you guilty of embezzlement beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a very high bar to meet. Specifically, they must prove the following elements:

  1. The owner of the property entrusted the property to the defendant.
  2. The owner did this because they trusted the defendant.
  3. The defendant fraudulently converted or used the property for their benefit.
  4. The defendant intended to deprive the owner of the property

Here are some examples of embezzlement:

Example 1: An employee deposits checks at the bank for her employer every Friday. But the next time she goes to the bank, instead of depositing the checks, she cashes them for herself. This employee has embezzled the money. Her employer gave her the checks to deposit, which he trusted her to do because that was part of her job. Instead, the employee fraudulently cashed the checks and kept the money, depriving the employer of the money.

Example 2: A volunteer is in charge of the cash box at a carnival. While no one is looking, he pockets some of the money. A prosecutor would have a strong case for embezzlement against the volunteer. The volunteer was entrusted by the carnival organizers to run the cash box, but he stole the money for his own benefit and thereby intended to deprive the carnival organizers of it.

Under California law, you do not have to physically take something to embezzle it – you can simply deprive the owner of the benefit of it. Further, the intent to deprive the owner does not need to be permanent. For example, a chief financial officer of a company who withdraws money from the company bank account every Friday so he can gamble at the casino has committed the crime of embezzlement, even if he puts the same amount of money back in every Monday morning, whether he wins or not. Even though he only deprived his employer of the money for the weekend, this is still considered embezzlement.

Other Types of Embezzlement

Certain types of embezzlement are explicitly listed in the California Penal Code:

  • A state treasurer takes state funds and invests it for her portfolio
  • The chief financial officer of a corporation withdraws money for personal use
  • A tenant sells the landlord’s furniture without permission for extra cash
  • A truck driver takes some of the food he is transporting across the state to deliver to grocery stores
  • A bank employee takes a stack of cash when she visits the bank vault and keeps it for herself


The crime of embezzlement is punished as either grand theft or petty theft. Embezzlement is classified as grand theft in the following scenarios:

  • The value of money, labor, or real or personal property taken exceeds $950
  • The value of certain farm crops or fish products taken exceeds $250
  • The property taken is a car or a firearm

Grand theft is a “wobbler” crime, which means that it can be either a felony or a misdemeanor.

  • If it involves theft of a firearm, the penalty could be imprisonment in state prison for 16 months, or two or three years.
  • For any other grand theft, you face imprisonment in county jail up to one year, a fine up to $5,000, or both.

All other thefts are considered petty theft. Petty theft is punishable by a fine up to $1,000, jail time up to 6 months, or both.

If the victim of the embezzlement was an elderly person or someone who was a dependent person, this fact will be considered as an aggravating factor when imposing a sentence.


An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you to figure out any defenses to your embezzlement charges. Here are some that may apply to your case:

  • Good faith

If you believed in good faith that you had the right to the property you were taking, this could defeat a charge of embezzlement. You can’t be accused of taking property if you sincerely believed it was yours. Even if the good faith belief was unreasonable or mistaken, the defense can hold.

  • No intent

Embezzlement is an intent crime. In other words, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you intended to deprive the owner of their property. If you had no intention to deprive them of it (e.g., if you accidentally mixed up personal and business checks), this can negate the intent element and thereby defeat the charge of embezzlement.

If the defendant has already been indicted by a grand jury for embezzlement, it is not considered a defense nor a mitigation of punishment if the defendant swears that they intended to restore the property. On the other hand, if the defendant, of their own accord, returns the property taken before they are indicted by a grand jury for embezzlement, this may mitigate their punishment. However, it is still not a defense.

California Embezzlement Lawyers

My Rights Law – Criminal & DUI Attorneys, an experienced criminal defense firm, understands how to effectively defend Californians against criminal charges including embezzlement. We will carefully assess your situation and work tirelessly to defend you from any charges you face. Don’t risk your future with such a serious offense. Get a well-respected criminal defense team in your corner without delay. To learn more, call My Rights Law at (888) 702-8882 or contact us online today.