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Home » Financial Crimes Lawyer » Embezzlement Lawyer

California Embezzlement Attorney – Penal Code 503 PC

Should You Hire An Embezzlement Attorney?

If you’re facing embezzlement charges, consider consulting with a California embezzlement lawyer regarding your possible defenses and options. An experienced financial crimes lawyer from My Rights Law can represent your interests and make the most of the best defenses available. Our California embezzlement lawyers have years of experience defending clients against serious criminal charges. Contact us by  completing the secure web form or call at (888) 702-8882 for a free, confidential consultation.

California Embezzlement Attorney

When you hear the term “embezzle,” crooked politicians or high-profile C.E.O.s may come to mind. Although such scandals quickly make the news, anyone can be guilty of embezzlement. A cashier, hairstylist, or accountant for a boutique firm may be accused of embezzlement. California takes this crime seriously, so you can expect harsh punishment if convicted. Embezzlement is also a federal crime, so an attorney general can push to have you serve time in the federal penitentiary. If you’d like to know more about Penal Code 503 and how it can affect you, continue reading.

If you’re a California resident and the state has accused you of embezzlement, consider reaching out to a California embezzlement attorney. Prosecutors may already be building a case against you. Embezzlement is a serious offense that can be a state-level crime or a federal-level crime. Either charge not only damages your reputation and puts you at risk of serving many years of your life behind bars, but it can also ruin your political and career aspirations. Fortunately, your name doesn’t have to go down in flame.

The attorneys at My Rights Law have years of experience seeing many victories in getting charges dropped and cases dismissed. If you’d like to schedule a free consultation, call us at (888) 702-8882 or contact us online.

Embezzlement As A California State Offense

According to Penal Code 503, you commit embezzlement when you take the property someone else gave you and use it for other means than what the giver intended. In short, you appropriated someone’s property. An example of this is if someone paid you to do their taxes. Instead, you use the money to fund your L.L.C. and never do their taxes. Another example is taking money from your company to pay for dental work. However, you can commit embezzlement even if you aren’t dealing with physical cash. You can embezzle anything valuable, such as a home or vehicle.

There are essential elements and terms about this crime.

  • The property owner trusted you.[1]
  • The owner entrusted their property to you.
  • You fraudulently appropriated the property to benefit yourself.
  • You intended to deprive the owner of their property.


Embezzlement is a wobbler offense in California.[2] Wobblers are crimes that prosecutors may charge as a misdemeanor or felony. Whether the prosecutor charges you with a misdemeanor or felony depends on the value of what you appropriated. If you wrongfully misused property worth $950.01 or more, the state will charge you with a felony. Felony embezzlement is known as grand theft, which is covered by penal code 487. Embezzlement is known as “petty theft” when the value is $950 or less, which is covered by penal code 488.

If the state charges you with a misdemeanor, a judge may sentence you up to six months in county jail. If the state charges you with a felony, a judge can impose a harsher penalty, sentencing you up to three years in state prison.

However, the state may bring other charges against you in some cases. As mentioned earlier, embezzlement doesn’t have to involve money—it can involve something with monetary value. Grand theft embezzlement that consists of a vehicle or firearm may result in gun-related charges, such as unlawful possession and carrying a stolen firearm. Additional charges often result in lengthier sentences.

Not to mention, enhancements apply. If you embezzled money or something worth more than $65,000, you would face an additional year in prison. You might suffer another four years behind bars if it was something more than $3,200,000.

Penalties For Embezzling As A Public Official

Penal Code 504 criminalizes public officials who embezzle. In this context, you’re a public official if you’re an officer of a state, city, county, or municipality; an officer’s deputy, clerk, servant, trustee or agent; or an officer of a public or private association. Penal Code 504a also criminalizes fraudulently removing, concealing, or getting rid of the victim’s contractually entrusted to you as a public official. For example, suppose a tribe of Indigenous Peoples purchases land from a mayor. That mayor takes the money but uses it to fund a boating venture with his friends, never giving the buyers their land and even selling it to another group.

If this mayor is caught and convicted, the mayor faces up to three years in prison. Enhancement law applies to public officials, too. Thus, they may serve even more time. It’s unlikely that a public official will appropriate something worth less than $950, but if they do, it’s a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail.


Embezzlement is a crime of dishonesty. It’s based on a solid relationship of trust between you and the victim. One strategic way to raise reasonable doubt is to establish that you weren’t dishonest. Below are some defenses you may use. Of course, it’s in your best interest to speak with us to formulate the most applicable and most robust defenses to your unique circumstances.

Wrong Person

Someone may have appropriated the victim’s property. That doesn’t mean you’re that person. Let’s say you’re one of three accountants for a nonprofit. You and another employee had access to money that was later converted. The employer accuses you. In this case, you need to prove that—even if it wasn’t the other employee—it wasn’t you. You may not know the culprit, so you don’t want to point the finger. However, there’s nothing wrong with clarifying that your employer entrusted at least one other person with money. You can also specify that there’s still another accountant and other employees who may have stolen the funds.

No Intent To Deprive

Intending to deprive the rightful owner is a criterion prosecutors must prove to make this charge stick. You might use this defense if you didn’t have this intent or a legitimate reason for your actions.[3] It could be that you were playing a foolish prank, which, although immature, is not a crime.


You took the property the victim entrusted to you. Yet, you misunderstood the rightful owner’s instructions. In other words, you made an honest mistake in good faith.[4] Witnesses who can testify to your upstanding character or an explanation of how you made a mistake can possibly get you out of this situation.

Embezzlement As A Federal Offense

It’s a federal offense to embezzle the United States government’s property, including property from its departments and agencies. This is criminalized under 18 U.S. Code § 641. Other federal embezzlement offenses exist. For example, 18 U.S. Code § 646 prohibits you from failing to immediately deposit government funds into the appropriate accounts, retaining, or appropriating such money. 18 U.S. Code § 648 prohibits people responsible for safe-keeping government property from converting the funds. Generally, no government worker may misuse the money entrusted to you for personal benefit.


If convicted of federal-level embezzlement, a judge may sentence you up to ten years in federal prison. If the converted property is $1000 or less, you can only serve a year at most. The potential length of federal sentences is the same for this crime.


The defenses you use for state-level embezzlement apply to federal-level embezzlement. There are more defenses at your disposal, including duress.


Suppose you admit to embezzling property or funds. Duress can be an affirmative defense that prevents you from getting locked up. You acted under duress if:

  • You faced an immediate threat (of severe bodily injury or death).
  • You reasonably believed the other person would make well on the threat.
  • You had no choice out of the threat other than to commit the crime.

As you can see, this defense is specific, and you must prove each element for it to apply. Suppose someone threatened to shoot you unless you took the property your friend entrusted to you. But this person didn’t have a gun on them, and you’ve never known this person to be violent. In this case, it may not hold tight if you didn’t have a reasonable fear of the person or had an opportunity to get out of it.

Contact An Embezzlement Lawyer At My Rights Law

My Rights Law is ready to help you avoid an embezzlement conviction. Our California embezzlement defense lawyers know the criminal justice system well. We have case results and years of litigation experience. Although we cannot guarantee results, we promise to work diligently to get the best outcome possible. Contact us at (888) 702-8882 or filling out our secure web form for a free first consultation.

Other financial crimes we defend include: Identity Theft, Extortion

[1] See CALCRIM No. 1806.
[2] See  People v. Warmington (Cal. App. 3d Dist., 2017), 224 Cal. Rptr. 3d 291, 16 Cal. App. 5th 333.
[3] See In re Basinger (1988) 45 Cal.3d 1348.
[4] See People v. Stewart (1976) 16 Cal.3d 133.

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